Cubs prospect Bryant mature beyond his years
U.S. third baseman at Futures Game will be able to handle hype when he reaches bigs
MINNEAPOLIS -- In the midst of all the conjecture, speculation and, yes, even the promise of the Chicago Cubs' future, here comes the one part of that future closest to Major league fruition.
It is Kris Bryant. Sunday afternoon he started at third base and hit cleanup for the U.S. Team in the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game at Target Field.
Bryant, 22, is little more than a year removed from signing with the Cubs. He had been the College Player of the Year at the University of San Diego. The Cubs drafted him with the second overall pick on the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. Since then he has rocketed upward through the Cubs' system.
This year, starting at Double-A and advancing to Triple-A, Bryant has compiled a slash line of .346/.444/.701 with 31 home runs and 81 RBIs in 92 games.
Bryant has a fluid swing that does not appear to require immense exertion. He is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and is listed at 215 pounds. You could see how he might grow into more power.
Happily for both Bryant and the Cubs, he is wearing his success -- and all the speculation that comes with it -- very well. Bryant is a pleasant blend of modesty and confidence. He appears to be mature beyond his years. In the home clubhouse at Target Field, he is inevitably asked, more than once, about having a timetable for getting to the big leagues.
"No, no timetable at all," Bryant says with a small smile. "I just go out there every day to play baseball and have fun. It's a game. I don't think about that at all. That's the way I approach life, too. Don't think about the future, stay in the present and have fun.
"I don't even pay attention to it. It's a distraction to me. I had some distractions in high school. Focusing on the Draft, I didn't perform the way I should have. I learned a lesson from that. I'm never looking into the future; I'm playing in the present moment."
In the moment, he's having a tremendous season. His own assessment is more modest than that.
"It's been pretty good, but I'm kind of a perfectionist, so I always think of areas where I can improve," Bryant says. "And there's definitely areas where this season I could have gotten better. But the teams I've been playing on have been playing really well and it's just been a fun experience."
Being a hitter and a perfectionist can be a difficult combination.
"It's very hard," Bryant says. "You're failing seven out of 10 times and you're a Hall of Famer. But I keep that in perspective when I go out there. But you want to do so good every game. I think that's the right attitude to have, because you always want to strive to be the best that you can be. That's how I go about it."
Bryant is not as far advanced defensively as he is as a hitter. Then again, if he had advanced that far defensively, he'd be Brooks Robinson. Asked what he feels he has to work on, Bryant responds:
"Defense, just working really hard on staying low to the ground. And maybe not chasing so many pitches off the plate, having a more solid approach up there. I think it just comes with playing. It's like defense; you get better at defense when you get more reps. If you're at the plate and you take those borderline pitches, it builds your confidence and you get more comfortable. So it's all about getting experience and playing as many games as you can."
There has been considerable conjecture about Bryant being moved to the outfield. Nobody in a position of any authority with the Cubs has said this to Bryant.
"I haven't heard one word [about playing the outfield]," he says. "If they want me to play the outfield, I could 100 percent do it, but I've been playing third base my whole life. I feel pretty comfortable there. I've gotten a whole lot better there this year. And I'm looking forward to getting a whole lot better, too."
Sunday's performance was not the stuff of dreams for Bryant. In four plate appearances, he struck out twice, flied out to short right with the bases loaded and walked. He did drive a ball well beyond the wall in left but it hooked just foul. And he made a nice defensive play on a ball hit to his left.
"I don't think you could not have fun here," Bryant said. "We're in a big league locker room, on a a big league field. I don't know how many people were here, but it seemed like 40,000. We're all going to be able to remember this day forever."
In a 3-2 victory for the U.S. Team, Bryant found encouragement from the fact that his Iowa teammate, shortstop Javier Baez, hit a two-run homer for the World Team.
"I'm happy he's a Chicago Cub," Bryant said of Baez. "As he was rounding the bases, I told him: 'You've got to save those for the season.'"
In the not-too-distant future, Bryant will become present tense for the Chicago Cubs. There will be considerable hype accompanying his arrival, but he will be mature enough to handle it.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.