Cubs: Kris Bryant ready for whatever rolls his way

Cubs: Kris Bryant ready for whatever rolls his way
May 1, 2014, 12:30 pm
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Tony Andracki

Kris Bryant hasn't even spent a full calendar year as a professional baseball player, but he's already looking and sounding like a seasoned veteran.

Nothing seems to faze Bryant and opposing teams have struggled to slow him down. That’s why the Cubs drafted him No. 2 overall last June. He spent only 36 games at the lower levels of the system before jumping to Double-A Tennessee to start this season.

"It's definitely a huge honor, (but) you're out there playing against the ball," Bryant told Mick Gillispie of Smokies Radio. "It doesn't really matter who's on the mound or who you're playing against.

"You kinda have to go up there with the mentality that it's a nameless, faceless opponent out there and I've been trying to do that every day here."

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Given his lack of experience, it would be understandable if Bryant struggled upon his promotion to Tennessee, but he took Cincinnati Reds starter Mat Latos (on a rehab assignment) deep in his first at-bat at the Double-A level.

"That was a good first at-bat, a story I'll be able to tell forever," Bryant said.

Latos plunked Bryant in the next at-bat, but the 22-year-old slugger showed off his entire skillset, stealing second and later scoring.

Was the beaning intentional, a message from a big-leaguer to a fresh-faced kid? Bryant said he assumed it was on purpose, but he shrugged it off and didn't seem to care one way or the other.

"That's how the game of baseball goes sometimes," he said. "There are those unwritten rules that don't always come out. But I got on first and when I'm on base, I'm helping my team win."

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Bryant put up a 1.078 OPS across three levels last season, ultimately landing with advanced Class-A Daytona, where he helped the team win a championship. He followed that up by earning the MVP award in the Arizona Fall League and getting listed as the game’s No. 8 overall prospect in the Baseball America rankings.

Bryant pushed his OPS to .999 this season before colliding with two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw - also on a rehab stint – on Wednesday in Chattanooga, striking out twice during an 0-for-5 night.

Through the first month of the minor-league season, the 6-foot-5 slugger has five homers, eight doubles and 15 walks in 24 games. He has even managed five steals in five chances.

On the down side, he has made five errors at third base and said he's been spending a lot of time working on his defense. Some around the game believe he will ultimately end up as a corner outfielder.

Bryant has said several times that he doesn't care where he plays down the road. But for now, he is just worried about his game at the hot corner.

"It's been good. The coaches in the Cubs organization are there to help us," Bryant said. "They're always willing to hit us extra groundballs and I take advantage of that. I go out there every day and try to get as many groundballs as I can just to kinda perfect that area of my game.

"I still have a long way to go, but I think I've come a long way, as well."

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Cubs fans, frustrated with the big-league club's 9-17 start and impatient with the rebuilding process, are grasping for hope anywhere they can find it. Some are already calling for Bryant to make an appearance in Chicago by the end of this season.

No chance. But if the day eventually comes where Bryant is called up to The Show, he'll be ready.

"I really have no clue [when it will be]," Bryant told Gillispie. "Right now, I'm just focused on helping the Smokies win as many games as possible and I'm having a whole lot of fun doing it.

"If that time comes, then it'll be the greatest day of my life. But right now, I'm in Tennessee and definitely enjoying it here."