GENEVA – Cougars players and coaches exercise one of two options to get from field level to the home clubhouse at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.
Many were passing through the stands or climbing the stairs in the tunnel beneath them when word came that Kris Bryant would not be taking a similar walk this summer.
The parent Cubs promoted Bryant from Short-A Boise to Advanced-A Daytona Monday afternoon, meaning the 2013 draft’s second overall draft pick would bypass playing third base in Geneva. While there might have been sighs among fans before a 4-3 win against Cedar Rapids, the men who would be Bryant’s Class-A teammates expressed no hard feelings.
“I mean, he deserves it. He’s been playing well,” right-hander Tyler Skulina said shortly after batting practice. “The first couple games, he was off. I’m sure he hadn’t been playing a game in whatever it was, a couple months. But he seemed to pick it up pretty quick again. So he deserves it.”
After the game, first baseman Dan Vogelbach learned he was Daytona-bound, too, receiving news of his promotion moments after he walked in the clubhouse.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Vogelbach said. “It’s going to be hard, too, because I came close with a bunch of the boys on this team, so anytime you leave your boys, it’s tough. But I’m excited. I’m ready to get rolling and get after it.”
Bryant, a college standout at San Diego, earned Northwest League Player of the Week plaudits earlier Monday. He ended his latest stop in the Cubs’ system with a 15-game hitting streak and batted .354 with eight doubles, four homers and 16 RBIs in 18 games with the Hawks.
Cubs officials weighed the merits of sending Bryant to either Kane County or Daytona. Ultimately, he likely wound up further southeast because the Florida State League would challenge him more, Daytona is leading its division and the Cougars (46-67 overall, 18-31 second half) have their own full-time third baseman.
Jeimer Candelario, 19, the youngest player on the Opening Day roster, signed with the Cubs as an undrafted free agent in September 2010. He was just 16.
Showing steady development since, Candelario .batted .281 in 71 games with Boise in 2012 but led the league’s third basemen with 20 errors. Cougars manager Mark Johnson, who also guided Boise last summer, points to improved throwing and first-step quickness that still provides an encouraging ceiling for his cleanup hitter.
Candelario entered Monday with a .255 average, eight home runs and 46 RBIs in 109 games. He started a two-run, ninth-inning rally against the Kernels (72-46, 32-18) with a one-out double.
“He’s been in the 4-hole all year. At 19 years old in this league, it’s not an easy place to be, and he’s made some strides,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he did not ponder the prospects of bringing Bryant into a clubhouse that also included highly touted farmhands Albert Almora – last season’s first-round pick – and Vogelbach.
Instead, he treated Bryant’s possible arrival like any other roster move: “When they get here, we go to work. When they leave, get another guy.”
“Obviously, he would be an honor and be a pleasure, probably, to coach. I hear he’s a great kid and a hard-worker and a mature kid for his age,” Johnson said. “It would be nice to be around him and see what he’s like and all that, but I’m sure that we’ll see him in instructional league and on down the road.”
Johnson’s counterpart, Kernels manager Jake Mauer, knows about associating with top talent, too.
Drafted 676 picks after the Minnesota Twins selected his younger brother, Joe, first overall in 2001, Jake Mauer didn’t fret when the siblings’ paths took decidedly different turns after they were teammates with then-Twins affiliate Quad Cities in 2002.
“I’m proud of who he is and what he’s doing,” Jake Mauer said. “It’s like Joe says – when people stop paying attention, you know you’re pretty much done.”
That’s not quite the case for the younger Mauer, who played closer to Jake than usual when the Twins visited the White Sox over the weekend.
Ditto for Bryant. He simply has skipped the “Kane County” rung of the Cubs’ organizational staircase, er, ladder.