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updated: 2/20/2014 8:05 PM

Eventually, Cubs will turn to up-and-coming star Bryant

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  • Mike Olt

      Mike Olt
    Associated Press

  • Kris Bryant will likely begin the 2014 baseball season at Class AA Tennessee. If he gets off to a fast start, it wouldn't be a surprise for the Cubs' first-round pick to be called up to the big club this summer.

      Kris Bryant will likely begin the 2014 baseball season at Class AA Tennessee. If he gets off to a fast start, it wouldn't be a surprise for the Cubs' first-round pick to be called up to the big club this summer.
    Associated Press

 
 

It was only fair last year to do a takeoff on the old Abbott and Costello routine and ask, "Who's on third" for the Cubs.

If you answered, "I don't know," you would have been right in the spirit of things.

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The third-base job was supposed to belong to Ian Stewart, but for the second straight year, he wasn't able to go because of injury, and he paved his way out of the organization with an ill-advised Twitter rant.

In a perfect Cubs world -- if such a thing could ever exist -- Josh Vitters would have been ready, but he sank into oblivion and now is trying to salvage his career as an outfielder in Cubs camp.

So it was left to the likes to Luis Valbuena, Cody Ransom, Donnie Murphy, Brent Lillibridge, Steve Clevenger and Alberto Gonzalez to man the hot seat at the hot corner.

Lo and behold, the Cubs got some decent production out of third base, with Ransom hitting 9 home runs before he was released, Valbuena hitting 12 and Murphy chipping in with 11 in a late-season audition that earned him a 2014 contract.

But this can't go on forever, can it? It can, but it doesn't look like it's going to, as the Cubs seem rich in third basemen for a change.

Valbuena and Murphy may well share the position at times this year, but the Cubs look to have some real, long-term talent in the pipeline.

Mike Olt, a former first-rounder of the Texas Rangers, could seize the job this spring after a lost season in the minors last year due to vision problems.

Christian Villanueva, whom the Cubs feel is the best defensive third baseman in the organization, has had a good minor-league career with the bat, too, and he could press for a spot or make a nice trading chip.

But the third-base bag at Wrigley Field has the name of Kris Bryant written on it. Bryant, the Cubs' first-round draft pick last year, is considered one of the top hitting prospects in all of baseball. With a good start at Class AA Tennessee, it's entirely possible he could end up on the big-league roster this summer.

"That's not really up to me to decide," Bryant said last month at the Cubs' rookie development camp at Northwestern University. "I have the confidence in myself to go out there every day and play as hard as I can. That's all I can really do right now.

"You just balance that by staying in the present moment. That's something that college really taught me well -- not looking to the future, not looking to the past, just staying right in the present and focusing on the task at hand, whether it be a game or a practice."

The Cubs took Bryant out of the University of San Diego with the second overall pick last June. Among minor-league stops at Mesa, Boise and Daytona, he put up a line of .336/.390/.688 in 36 games with 14 doubles, 6 home runs and 32 RBI. He continued hitting in the Arizona Fall League, furthering the talk that he's a fast-tracker.

Until he gets here, the Cubs may like Olt to take over so they can put Valbuena and Murphy into utility roles.

"I feel really good," Olt said. "I feel a little break after that year was something I needed. The body feels good. The mental break felt great. I'm ready to go. I don't really feel like I have anything I need to prove. I know that I put in a lot of hard work. I think last year was good for me in dealing with a lot of adversity. It's going to make me a better player.

"It's everyone's goal to be in the big leagues. It's not going to be my focus right now. My focus is just to go out and do my job and at the end of the day, when it's time to start breaking with teams, then I'll start thinking about it."

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