Cubs Prospect Watch: Kris Bryant ignores the hype

Cubs Prospect Watch: Kris Bryant ignores the hype
February 5, 2014, 10:00 pm
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Tony Andracki

As Kris Bryant finished packing for the rookie-development program, his mom stopped him before heading to the airport: You’re going to need the big winter coat.

The 22-year-old kid from Las Vegas isn't used to January in the Windy City. And while the Cubs made him the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, they also understand he’s not ready for the bright lights of Chicago just yet.

Eventually, Bryant should be penciled in the middle of the lineup and driving balls into the Wrigley Field bleachers. But he has just 36 professional games under his belt (56 if you include the Arizona Fall League). There's still plenty to learn.

[Prospect Watch: Pierce Johnson making Cubs take notice]

"I can't really speak on [how fast I will move through the system]," Bryant said. "That's not really up to me.

"All I can do is go out there and have the confidence, be prepared every day and play as hard as I can. Hopefully, everything takes care of itself."

Bryant may not have much in the way of professional experience, but he spent 2013 turning heads in the baseball world. After a record-setting season at the University of San Diego, he didn't miss a beat playing at three levels in the Cubs system before dominating in the AFL and winning its MVP award.

Between college, the minors and the AFL, Bryant hit 46 homers and drove in 111 runs in 118 games last year. Experts routinely rank him among the top 10 prospects in the game.

[RELATED: ESPN's interesting rankings of the Cubs' top prospects]

"I wouldn't say [I expected to have that kind of success], but I do expect a lot out of myself," Bryant said. "I go out there every day with an extreme amount of confidence.

"I don't really look at the numbers. I just go out there every day and tell myself I'm going to compete and play as hard as I can and the results will take care of themselves. I've been sticking to what's been working for me."

After all this success, it would be easy for a young kid like Bryant to get caught up in the hype and assume his ticket to Wrigley has already been punched. But Bryant is keeping his head out of the clouds.

[MORE: Prospect rankings provide more hope for the future]

"When I was in college, we did a whole lot of the mental-training side of baseball and just staying in the moment," he said. "Those tools have really carried over into professional baseball and they've helped me tremendously.

"I'm just falling back on the things I know. Those are the tools I have in my belt and I've been using them. So I'm just staying in the moment every day, focusing on getting better as a player and as a person."

That down-to-earth mentality is helping Bryant manage the lofty expectations surrounding the organization’s top prospects, a group heralded as potential saviors from an increasingly impatient fan base.

Bryant doesn't seem to be fazed by the pressure. At last month’s Cubs Convention, he started playing an impromptu game of football with 2012 first-round draft pick Albert Almora and a bunch of kids on the third floor of the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers.

[RELATED: Cubs hoping for Welington Castillo’s next breakthrough season]

Bryant got a taste of Wrigley Field when he officially signed with the Cubs last July. But he really experienced the Chicago market when his rookie-development class took in a Blackhawks game at the United Center.

"It's absolutely incredible," he said. "Getting drafted by the Cubs and hearing stories leading up to the day that I signed, I knew it was a great city. And then I get here and it's overwhelming.

"The fans are so passionate, not just in baseball. The hockey game was incredible and they're the same in basketball and football. It's a city that everybody should want to be a part of and I'm just thankful the Cubs chose me."

Bryant will head to his first big-league camp later this month when he reports to Mesa, Ariz. He will be a center of attention in spring training. But at heart, the 6-foot-5 slugger is still in awe of what’s happening.

[MORE: Cubs will get look at future with Baez, Bryant, Almora in camp]

"It's surreal," he said. "You see these guys on TV. I was talking with Anthony Rizzo and just kept thinking 'Man, this is so cool.' It set in that I'm now a teammate with him and I'm part of the Cubs organization.

"It's been a dream of mine ever since I was little and now it's all coming true. But I have a whole lot to work on. I've got to work my butt off and try to play as best I can."