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Prospect Profile: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Jason Hunt takes a look at his top overall fantasy prospect, Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs, and how valuable he might be in redraft leagues this year.

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Prospect situations rarely become as clear cut as it appears with the top prospect in the Cubs' system, Kris Bryant. He was drafted out of high school by the Blue Jays in the 18th round, but didn't sign and instead went to the University of San Diego. He had two excellent seasons in 2011 and 2012, and came into the 2013 season viewed as the #6 college prospect by Baseball America. He raised his stock immensely even in that final year as he hit 31 home runs with a .329/.480/.820 slash line, leading the college ranks in home runs among other categories.

The Cubs selected him with the #2 overall pick behind Mark Appel and ahead of Jon Gray, and gave him the largest bonus in the 2013 class at just over $6.7 million. He appeared in a total of 56 games after signing, including 20 in the Arizona Fall League, and finished with another 15 home runs and a .346 batting average across four levels. The Cubs moved the advanced hitter up to AA to start the 2014 season, and after hitting .355 with 22 home runs and 8 stolen bases in just 68 games, sent him up again to AAA. He hasn't really missed a beat at any level, hitting another 21 home runs at AAA Iowa, although his average did drop (by definition anyway) to .295.

There doesn't appear to be a lot left for Bryant to prove at AAA at this point, as he was excellent there overall. He did see a slight uptick in his strikeout rate (from 26% to 29%), but his walk rate held consistent at 14%, and his BABIP returned to a ever so slightly more reasonable .367 (down from .440 at AA Tennessee). Even with those changes, if you have a hitter clubbing 35+ home runs a year, you'll take a 29% strikeout rate every day of the week.

When writing up these prospect profiles, this is the part where I tend to throw water on the expectations because a player is either too far away still to have an impact, or can struggle more than you'd hope for from a prospect, but Bryant is about as clear cut to me as it comes. Will he struggle when he comes up? Possibly, but he has shown the ability to make adjustments at every level and do so in a fairly quick manner. Will he be up during the 2015 season and make an impact? Yes, he absolutely will be up this year barring an injury in Spring Training, and should be at worst a top 20 third baseman if he is up by June. Our consensus rankings have him as our #19 third baseman, a lot of which stems from questions about his exact call up date and how long it might take him to make those adjustments before showing the form he has at every stop in the minors.

The Cubs probably did themselves a favor during the offseason as well, trading the player that is most likely blocking Bryant from the majors (Luis Valbuena) and saving themselves the struggle to determine when to remove Valbuena, a productive player last year, from the lineup to make way for Bryant. The current players slotted in at third base for the Cubs at Roster Resource are the newly acquired Tommy La Stella, and former top prospect Mike Olt. Neither of these players are likely to block Bryant for long, and honestly may not even block him at the start of the year.

So what exactly are you getting with Bryant if you draft him in a redraft league? He may or may not play the full season in the majors, depending on what the Cubs try to do with his service time. If they want the extra year of control, he sits in Iowa until at least late April. Even with that in mind, the possibility of him coming to the majors and hitting .290 with 25 home runs this year is a very real option. He has elite level power, capable of producing 35-40 home runs on a consistent basis. The strikeouts remain a concern in terms of batting average risk, as he could end up dropping into the .250 range if he continues to strikeout around 30% of the time while in the majors.

The question you have to ask yourself in redraft leagues is more about roster construction, as it does remain a real possibility that the Cubs let Bryant stay in Iowa until sometime in June or even July. That's a very long time to be waiting to sit on a player that won't be helping your fantasy team in the short term. If your roster is strong enough to hold him in a bench spot, it is absolutely worth it and I would definitely consider it.

There isn't a prospect expected to be up in 2015 that can have more of an impact in even half a season than Bryant, and down the line he can potentially be a top 25 overall fantasy player on the strength of that home run power. I anticipate that he will be up before the end of April, as the Cubs have made it plain that they intend to aim for a playoff run in 2015, and Bryant is definitely the best option the team has at third base right now. They'll get that extra year of control as they try out a few other players there, but unless he falls completely on his face in Spring Training, I don't expect his stay in Iowa this year to be very long.