Going into the 2013 June amateur draft, three players had separated themselves from the pack. It was clear to everyone that a pair of right-handed pitchers, Stanford's Mark Appel and Oklahoma's Jon Gray, along with San Diego third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant, would be taken with the first three picks held by the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies.
After passing on Appel with the first overall pick in the 2012 draft (he fell to Pittsburgh with the ninth pick and did not sign with the Pirates), the Astros selected him with the top pick in the draft in 2013. This left the Cubs with a decision to make with their second overall pick: to take the flamethrower in Gray or the slugger in Bryant. Chicago decided to eschew pitching and took Bryant, adding another big bat to a system that already included the likes of Jorge Soler and Javier Baez.
Despite rumors of interest in first baseman Dom Smith, who would eventually end up with the Mets, the Rockies went the obvious route and nabbed Gray with the third overall pick, pairing him with 2012 pick Eddie Butler as a dynamic duo in their farm system.
But what if the Cubs had decided to go the other route, adding a pitcher to a farm system already stacked with hitters, and left Bryant for the Rockies? What would that have meant for the Cubs, Bryant and the Rockies? There is at least one thing that can be said with a fair amount of confidence:
Kris Bryant would not be primarily a third baseman
Throughout his professional career with the Cubs, Bryant has been a third baseman exclusively until playing a few innings in center field last night. That would almost certainly not be the case had he come up with the Rockies.
Bryant's move away from third in the Rockies organization would have been due to the presence of Nolan Arenado, who is less than eight months older than Bryant and was already well on his way to his first Gold Glove at third base when the draft commenced in June of 2013.
Bryant played all three outfield spots in addition to third base in college, but his size at 6-foot-5 makes him a better fit for a corner outfield spot and his plus arm making him a good candidate for right field. The other option for a new position for Bryant with the Rockies would have been at first base, but let's take a look at what happens if the Rockies put Bryant in right.
Drew Stubbs, Charlie Blackmon or Carlos Gonzalez likely would have been traded prior to the 2015 season
With Corey Dickerson having cemented himself as one of the top left fielders in baseball in 2014, that would leave Blackmon, Gonzalez, Bryant and Stubbs in the mix for the other two starting outfield spots.
A likely scenario would have been Gonzalez moving to center field when Bryant was called up early in the 2015 season, Blackmon sliding into a role as the fourth outfielder and Stubbs moved, because no one in their right mind is going to pay more than $5 million for a fifth outfielder. This same scenario could play out with Blackmon traded and Stubbs being the fourth outfielder, with Blackmon likely fetching a better return in a trade, but downgrading to Stubbs as the Rockies' fourth outfielder.
The biggest trade return would of course have come from Gonzalez, leaving both Blackmon and Stubbs as starting outfielders to begin 2015 until Bryant's promotion, at which point the Rockies would have a Dickerson-Blackmon-Bryant outfield with Stubbs as the fourth outfielder and whatever players that were included in the Gonzalez trade added to the system.
Certainly the most prudent of those scenarios seems to be trading Stubbs after his career year in 2014 and having Dickerson, Gonzalez, Blackmon and Bryant in the outfield for 2015, but let's spin this another year into the future.
Carlos Gonzalez would not be a Rockie in 2016
Lest we forget, Bryant would not be the only blue-chip outfield prospect coming through the Rockies' system. There is still the matter of 2012 first round pick David Dahl. It appears as if Dahl will be ready for the majors at some point in 2016, if not on Opening Day. Whenever Dahl is ready in 2016, it would make the then 30-year-old Gonzalez the odd man out in a Dickerson-Dahl-Bryant outfield. Take just a minute to contemplate that...and we're back.
If Gonzalez was not moved in 2015, he would almost certainly be traded prior to the 2016 season or at the 2016 trade deadline at the very latest, making way for a young, dynamic, Rockies outfield that would be among the best in baseball for the latter half of the 2010s.
Now that we've taken a look at some of what might have happened if the Rockies made Bryant an outfielder, what if he played first base for them? That scenario is actually quite easy to imagine, because a move to open the first base job for him almost happened anyway.
The rumored Justin Morneau-for-Nathan Eovaldi trade, or another one like it, actually happens
Miami was in the market for a power-hitting first baseman this offseason, during which rumors of a trade that would have sent Justin Morneau to the Marlins for right-handed pitcher Nathan Eovaldi surfaced. The move never materialized, though, and the Marlins signed free agent Michael Morse to play first base and traded Eovaldi to the Yankees for Martin Prado.
However, with no Gray waiting in the wings and Bryant kicking down the door at first base, the Rockies would certainly been more receptive to a Morneau-Eovaldi swap, and you have to think they pull the trigger and let Wilin Rosario and/or Ben Paulsen man first base before calling up Bryant early in the season while adding the 25-year-old Eovaldi to their stock of young arms.
Thinking of Bryant and Rockies' first basemen brings to mind something else that would be different for him with Colorado.
Kris Bryant would not be wearing No. 17
Sorry Kris, that's Todd's number. You can't have it.
With that out of the way, there is one more ramification swapping Gray for Bryant would have had on the Rockies, regardless of the position Bryant played.
The Rockies starting rotation in 2015 and beyond would look different
A lot of this would depend on other moves facilitated by Bryant's presence in the organization, but it is safe to say the current rotation of De La Rosa-Kendrick-Matzek-Lyles-Butler would not be intact with Bryant as a Rockie.
First, without Gray's seat to keep warm in 2015, there would not be much reason for the Rockies to sign Kyle Kendrick as a free agent. There would, however, still be a rotation spot open. Would Jeff Bridich have filled it with a pitcher acquired in a Gonzalez/Blackmon/Stubbs/Morneau trade? Would he have signed a pitcher of a bit better quality than Kendrick to keep the seat warm for the next two or three seasons until 2014 first rounder Kyle Freeland is ready for the show? Or would he have considered Jorge De La Rosa as that guy and gone for a James Shields type in free agency?
A simple twist of fate such as taking Bryant over Gray can have wide-ranging ramifications on a team's future, thanks to the butterfly effect of other moves it can cause, this is why no move, draft pick, free agent signing or trade can really be analyzed in isolation, because you have to look at how it affects the organization as a whole, not just the player or players involved.
None of the specifics are easy to project, but it is safe to say the Rockies' outlook would be quite different if Bryant's much-ballyhooed debut last week had come in the Mile High City rather than the Windy City.