Up-and-comer could be coming soon

If Bryant is as much like Harper as agent believes, he'll be Wrigley-bound before long

Kris Bryant stopped over at Wrigley Field on Friday, on his way to Mesa, Ariz. From there he will travel on to beautiful Boise, Idaho, where he will be initiated into pro baseball.

His father, Mike, picked up some dirt from the 99-year-old ballpark while the powerful third baseman took batting practice cuts off manager Dale Sveum. The question is, how long before the Bryants will be back for another scoop?

Less time than you probably think, I think. The guess here is that in the case of Bryant you can put away the sundial normally used to measure the development of baseball prospects.

Bryce Harper played 130 games in the minor leagues before making his debut as a 19-year-old with the Nationals. While Bryant's athletic gifts and drive didn't get him on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16, he's just a cut below Harper in terms of potential and ahead of him in maturity, thanks to three seasons at the University of San Diego.

Bryant, who received a $6.7 million bonus as the second overall pick in the draft, said on draft day that he felt he was already ready for the big leagues. He wasn't quite as cocksure in his self-promotion after President Theo Epstein's put a jersey around his shoulders — it was No. 1; he wore Ryne Sandberg's retired No. 23 for the San Diego Toreros — but said he feels "very comfortable'' with a wood bat.

Bryant is certain to be frustrated at times — nothing's tougher than hitting advanced pitching — but he and everyone around him seem sure he will be an impact bat. He says he wasn't surprised to put up the numbers he did this season, hitting .329 with 31 home runs in 62 games with the dialed-down college bat.

"I expect a lot out of myself,'' Bryant said. "I probably put higher expectations on myself than most people do. I expect when I go out there every day to do great things on the field. I wasn't shocked at all. I know I have the talent in me to do great things on the field. I've been blessed with great, great skill in this game.''

Scott Boras represents Bryant, as he does Harper. He says he never has seen a player with the power Harper had in his middle teens but believes Bryant is the same kind of elite prospect as Harper and Stephen Strasburg, who he also represents.

"The (slotted) draft system doesn't really identify the value of rare players like Kris,'' Boras said. "You're talking about a very athletic, very intelligent kid with the kind of power you just don't see. He hit more home runs this year than 85 percent of college teams. You don't often see these kind of players coming out of college because they have shown they're ready in high school.''

As a commodity, Boras says Bryant is on the same level with Strasburg, the former University of San Diego ace whose first contract with the Nationals will be worth roughly $18 million.

"That's the kind of player Kris Bryant is,'' Boras said. "He can walk in and raise the value of a franchise. Look at what Harper and Strasburg have done for the Nationals. The value of that franchise has increased $200-$250 million because of those young men.''

Boras has been railing against the spending limits in the amateur draft since the new collective bargaining was put together two years ago. He points to the deals given young Cubans like Yasiel Puig ($42 million) and Jorge Soler ($30 million) as an affront to elite American players.

He also would like to see the Cubs start spending for high-end free agents, not just amateurs. He believes this winter would be a great time for Chairman Tom Ricketts to give Epstein a chance to chase top free agents. He didn't name a player, but it sure sounded like he was making a case to add Jacoby Ellsbury, his top client in the upcoming free-agent class, as a mentor for guys like Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Soler.

"This is a rubber band,'' Boras said. "People putting a team together have to know when to contract, when to expand. The approach that this group has taken has been effective. They have a lot of players on their fields (in the minor league) who aren't far from the major leagues. Now they need some veteran players … if they don't go out and add some veterans, it's going to be a long, long process.''

Ricketts doesn't appear ready to open his wallet for free agents. Even if he gets everything he wants in the Wrigley Field project, he almost certainly will wait until after 2014 to invest in high-end talent.

So who gets to Wrigley first? Bryant or one of baseball's top free agents? I'll bet on Bryant, even if it is a little out of order, as Boras suggests.

progers@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

Twitter @ChiTribRogers

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