MIAMI – A lot of where the Cubs are in their fourth-year building process could be seen in the day in the baseball life of Kris Bryant on Tuesday in Miami.
Bryant, the rookie third baseman, arrived at Marlins Park before the Cubs’ 5-2 loss to the Marlins to find out manager Joe Maddon hoped he could play left field for the night because of a domino effect created by the ankle injury that knocked Jorge Soler out of the lineup.
Around the same time, the latest National League All-Star voting results were released, with Bryant holding strong in second place behind the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter in third base balloting – with former All-Star teammates Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro each falling back a spot at his position (both ranked third).
That’s a testament to the impact Bryant has had on the Cubs’ lineup since his April 17 debut and the way the top prospect in baseball has backed up the sizeable reputation that preceded him.
But if his night in left field was the precursor many believe it is, could it also make Bryant a rookie All-Star at a position he’s no longer playing by July’s midsummer classic?
“I’m prepared for anything,” said Bryant when asked about the possibility of an eventual position shuffle that could move him off third. “I played all over the field growing up. And I think it’s important to have that versatility to play this game.”
Maddon stressed Bryant’s shift to left on Tuesday was about a one-day process of making his lineup work without the services of Soler, and not necessarily a “precursor” to anything.
But middle infielder Javy Baez is expected back on the big-league roster before long, possibly as a designated hitter option when the Cubs open their interleague road schedule next week – a topic discussed by Maddon as recently as Monday.
And if the MRI Soler had Tuesday night shows enough damage to put him on the DL, the soft-clay form of this young lineup could soon get another reshaping before it hardens into anything close to its long-term identity.
If that means Bryant becomes the regular left fielder, with one of the three “shortstops” taking third (Baez, Starlin Castro or Addison Russell) – which has been part of internal discussions for months – he seems fine with it.
“You’re a kid playing this game. You play all over the field,” said Bryant, who played some center and right in college and last played left field in two spring training games. “That’s what I do. I’m a ballplayer. I’m ready for anything.”
That’s a seamless fit for Maddon’s managing style, which included nine years of moving guys allegedly out of position – sometimes within games – to gain advantages.
“The biggest thing to me is that he’s comfortable doing it,” Maddon said of Bryant in the outfield. “If he was like totally uncomfortable doing it, I probably would have put Chris [Coghlan] in the outfield [Tuesday]. But you get a guy that’s not uncomfortable doing that, then you’re more apt or willing to do it”
It could be the key to making all the best pieces of a youthful puzzle fit in the same lineup as the Cubs try to build their happy start into a serious finish to the season.
At the very least, it’s part of the process.
A process that, on this night, included Bryant grounding into a double play and striking out in an 0-for-4 performance. And that also included third-baseman-for-a-day Jonathan Herrera making a throwing error during the Marlins’ three-run fifth.
Fifty games into the season, the Cubs are four games over .500 with a chance to win a series behind $155 million ace Jon Lester on Wednesday.
Wherever the next 112 games lead, it’s a fluid process for a still-evolving young team.
“We know what kind of team we are,” shortstop Starlin Castro said. “I think this team is going to be great.”