Results tagged ‘ Kris Bryant ’

Kris Bryant named NL MVP

bryantmvp(Photo by Stephen Green)

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant was today named the National League Most Valuable Player by the Baseball Writers Association of America. Bryant received 29 of the possible 30 first-place votes, and one second place vote, for a total of 415 points. Washington’s Daniel Murphy placed second with 245 points.

Bryant becomes the 11th Most Valuable Player honoree in franchise history, the ninth since the BBWAA began voting for the award in 1931 and the first Cub to win since Sammy Sosa in 1998. Bryant also joins Andre Dawson (1987), Ryne Sandberg (1984), Ernie Banks (two times, 1958 and 1959), Hank Sauer (1952), Phil Cavarretta (1945) and Gabby Hartnett (1935) as BBWAA winners. Rogers Hornsby won the League Award in 1929 and Frank Schulte earned the Chalmers Award in 1911.  Bryant is the youngest MVP in franchise history.

The NL Rookie of the Year a season ago, Bryant has become the first player in franchise history to win both Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player Award at any point with the Cubs. Only four players in major league history have won the MVP a season after winning Rookie of the Year: Bryant, Boston’s Dustin Pedroia (2007 and 2008), Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard (2005 and 2006) and Baltimore’s Cal Ripken Jr. (1982 and 1983).

Bryant batted .292 (176-for-603) with 39 homers, 35 doubles, 102 RBI and 121 runs scored in 155 games this season. He led the National League in runs scored, ranked third in homers, was fourth with a .939 OPS and a .554 slugging percentage and sixth in RBI.  He was the only player in the majors with at least 35 homers, 35 doubles, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored and 75 walks this year. Bryant also led the National League with an 8.3 WAR, the highest mark by a Cub since Sammy Sosa’s 9.2 WAR in 2001.

The 24-year-old was named to the All-Star team for the second season in a row, the first time as a starter. Bryant also became just the second Cubs player to reach 35 home runs in his age 24 season, joining Ernie Banks in 1955.

Seven Cubs named to the NL All-Star team

The Chicago Cubs today had seven players named to the National League All-Star team, the second-most in franchise history, trailing only the eight Cubs named in 2008.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo, second baseman Ben Zobrist, shortstop Addison Russell, third baseman Kris Bryant and outfielder Dexter Fowler were all voted by fans to start the 87th Major League All-Star Game Tuesday, July 12 at San Diego’s Petco Park. Right-handed pitcher Jake Arrieta was named to the All-Star team through the player vote, while left-handed pitcher Jon Lester was named to the club by manager Terry Collins.

The Cubs are just the second team in major-league history to field the starting infield, joining the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals (1B Bill White, 2B Julian Javier, SS Dick Groat, 3B Ken Boyer). The Cubs have never had five players named to start the All-Star Game and are the first team to do so since the 1985 San Diego Padres. Chicago’s five position players are its most since also having five in 1988 (Andre Dawson, Shawon Dunston, Vance Law, Rafael Palmeiro and Ryne Sandberg).

Rizzo became the first Cub to lead the National League in fan voting since Derrek Lee in 2005. A three-time All-Star (2014, 2015 and 2016), Rizzo is the only first baseman in franchise history to be named to three-straight All-Star teams. He is only the fourth Cubs first baseman with three or more appearances, joining Ernie Banks (five All-Star Games as a first baseman), Mark Grace (three times) and Phil Cavarretta (three times). Rizzo is the first Cubs player to start at first base since Derrek Lee in 2005, as Rizzo was the starting designated hitter a year ago.

Zobrist has been named to his third-career All-Star team, joining his selections to the AL squad in 2009 and 2013. He is the first Cubs second baseman to be named to the squad since Ryne Sandberg started the game in 1993 and the fourth Cubs second baseman to be named to the club in the last 50 years, joining Sandberg, Manny Trillo and Glenn Beckert.

Russell has been named to his first All-Star team and is the first Cubs shortstop to start the game since Don Kessinger in 1972. At 22 years old, he is the youngest player in franchise history elected to start the game and second youngest All-Star overall, trailing only shortstop Starlin Castro who was named as a 21-year-old reserve in 2011. Russell is only the fourth Cubs shortstop named to the All-Star team in the last 50 seasons and the seventh overall.

Bryant earns his second All-Star honor in his second season, becoming the first Cubs third baseman to start the game since Aramis Ramirez in 2005. He is the first Cubs third baseman to earn All-Star honors in consecutive seasons since Ron Santo (1971-73) and the fifth Cubs third baseman to earn multiple All-Star honors, joining Aramis Ramirez (twice), Ron Santo (nine times), Randy Jackson (twice) and Stan Hack (four times).

Fowler has earned his first-career All-Star honor and is the first Cubs outfielder elected to start the game since Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome in 2008. Fowler is the first Cubs center fielder named to start the game since Frank Demaree in 1937. He is the first Cubs outfielder overall named to the game since Marlon Byrd in 2010.

On the pitching side, Arrieta earned his first-career All-Star honor and is the first Cubs right-handed starter to make the game since Jeff Samardzija in 2014. Lester has been named an All-Star for the fourth time in his career, first time as a Cub, as he previously earned American League honors in 2010, 2011 and 2014. He is the first Cubs left-handed starter to make the club since Travis Wood in 2013. The last Cubs lefty to pitch in the game was Randy Myers in 1995.

The Cubs have not had multiple pitchers make the game in the same season since four pitchers in 2008, when Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Marmol and Ryan Dempster all pitched in the game (Kerry Wood did not appear).

From the Pages of Vine Line: Kris Bryant is the Complete Package

VLBryant(Photo by Stephen Green)

There’s a big divide between Kris Bryant the media creation and Kris Bryant the man. As an exercise, let’s separate these dueling Bryants into column A and column B.

In column A, you have the burgeoning celebrity. This is the young superstar who hit .275/.369/.488 with 26 home runs and 99 RBI in his All-Star rookie campaign. The 6-foot-5 matinee idol whose crystal blue eyes have spawned multiple Twitter accounts. The man who collected the Golden Spikes (given to the nation’s best amateur player), Minor League Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards in consecutive seasons. This is the Scott Boras client whose image was plastered across an enormous Adidas billboard staring down at Wrigley Field from Addison Street to start the 2015 season—before he had even cracked the 40-man roster. He’s the Sports Illustrated cover boy who has done viral videos for Lyft and Red Bull—posing as a taxi driver, swimming with sharks and masquerading as a European transfer player at Mesa Community College—and who was recently named the face of Express clothing.

It’s a compelling package, and, like with any celebrity, it’s easy to assume you know Bryant from this well-publicized and carefully groomed construction.

But the Bryant in column B is markedly different. This is the quiet, usually smiling gentleman teammates see in the clubhouse. This Bryant is confident and likes to have fun, but he’s also polite, respectful and hesitant to draw attention to himself. He works hard and listens to his coaches. He’s the humble player who calls his dad after most games and recently got engaged to his high school sweetheart.

So how did Bryant B, the flesh-and-blood human being who is still working to adjust to this rapidly expanding new life, learn to embrace Bryant A? The 24-year-old has the remarkable ability, rare in someone so young, to separate what he does on the field from what he does off the field. He has no problem saying no to the things he doesn’t want to do, but he embraces the opportunities that sound fun, confident in the belief that taking time away from the game to clear his head will ultimately make him a better player.

“I completely leave the game at the field—other than, I’ll probably call my dad after the game and talk to him about it,” Bryant said. “After that, I’m done. I watch Netflix. We go out to dinner a lot, especially in Chicago. The food is awesome. I play a little guitar too. I just tinker around with some things, video games, that kind of thing.

“But there is never much time off the field when you’re not playing. You have a couple of hours after the game to watch some TV, go to sleep, wake up, go right to the field. It’s a crazy lifestyle, but a lifestyle I want to live.”

Of course, the celebrity Bryant persona is still quite new and will take some getting used to. So for now, he’s moving forward one step at a time and trying to remain laser-focused on getting better at his day job.

Everything about Bryant’s career so far has had a whiff of inevitability to it. At times, he’s seemed like a man among boys—even when he was still a boy himself.

Bryant’s father, Mike, a former minor-league outfielder in the Red Sox organization and a disciple of Ted Williams, loves to tell of how his son still holds the Las Vegas Little League record for home runs in a season. As a senior at Bonanza High School, Bryant hit .489 with 22 home runs and 51 RBI en route to AFLAC, Baseball America and USA Today high school All-American honors. In his junior (and final) year at the University of San Diego, he mashed 31 home runs, which seems like a reasonable total for a man with his size, power and uppercut swing—until you realize Bryant hit more homers than 223 out of 298 Division I baseball programs by himself and led the NCAA in eight different offensive categories, including runs, slugging percentage, total bases and walks.

After the Cubs selected him second overall in the 2013 draft, he continued to punish baseballs. From his rookie-league debut until his major-league call-up on April 17, 2015, Bryant hit an absurd .327/.426/.667 with 55 bombs and 152 RBI in 181 minor-league games.

“If you just look at him, he looks the part,” said Cubs assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske, a 12-year major-league veteran who won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 2002 with Toronto. “The guys that are the All-Stars and the Hall of Famers, they’re touched on the way out. He’s one of these guys who is just blessed with all the talent, and he’s got the right head on his shoulders. The sky is the limit, for sure.”

In some ways, Bryant was biomechanically engineered to be a major-league slugger. His father, who gives private lessons in his backyard batting cage in Las Vegas, has admitted to treating his son like a big-league hitter since he was a preteen. From the age of 5, Bryant was getting daily swing lessons and learning the intricacies of Williams’ seminal opus, The Science of Hitting. The main lesson—and one the slugger has internalized well—was to hit the ball hard and put it in the air.

Mike Bryant worked tirelessly to fine-tune his son’s trademark uppercut swing, designed to loft the ball with sufficient drive and backspin to carry it out of most parks, short of Yellowstone. The problem with that extreme uppercut is that it also creates a lot of swing and miss. Despite spending the first few games of the 2015 season at Triple-A Iowa, Bryant still led the NL in strikeouts with 199. While the young slugger understands strikeouts are an inevitable byproduct of the way he swings the bat, he did notice last season that he was missing on too many pitches in the strike zone.

“He’s talked a lot about staying flatter in the zone with his bat path,” Hinske said. “He has a tendency to uppercut his swing a little bit, so he wants to keep that barrel in the zone longer. He’s worked a lot in the offseason doing that. He does a stop-the-bat drill where he just tries to stop that barrel in the zone using his lower half to get there. He works at his craft, man. He’s a pro, and he’s got an idea.”

Both hitting coach John Mallee and Hinske agree that Bryant is almost the perfect pupil. He takes coaching well, and his problems are easy to fix because he’s so mechanically correct.

“His aptitude is tremendous,” Mallee said. “He studies the opposing pitcher, he takes a lot of pride in his pregame preparation, and he develops his own plan when he gets up in the game. If he sticks to his plan, he’s as good as anybody.”

That’s high praise for a man who came into the 2016 season with only 650 major-league plate appearances. But hitting exploding fastballs and gravity-defying sliders from the best pitchers on the planet takes more than just the right chromosomal mix. As the old adage goes, even the best hitters fail seven out of 10 times, and no rookie gets through his initial tour of duty without hitting the skids for a few games.

Though Bryant famously didn’t log his first major-league home run until May 9 of last year, 21 games into his career, he actually still swung the bat well during that brief power outage. His season found its nadir between July 6 and Aug. 6, when he hit .168/.289/.295 with only two home runs and 38 strikeouts in 27 contests, dropping his season average 29 points in the process.

“He got in a little bit of a funk there, and the veterans picked him up and kind of showed him the way to get through it,” Mallee said. “When you have that much talent, if we can just not let him think of it as a big situation—[we want to] just let him go up there and see it and hit it and let his instincts take over.”

It would have been more than understandable if Bryant had started to press, as a young man trying to prove himself in the big leagues. But that’s what truly separates him from most of the other premier hitters around the league. He has an almost preternatural calm about him. Teammates rave about his ability to never get too high or too low, which allows him to easily shrug off the occasional 0 for 4.

“The mental game is huge in baseball, and he’s very strong-minded up there,” said teammate Kyle Schwarber. “It’s easy to get down on yourself when you’re going bad. Everyone gets to that point of second-guessing themselves at some point. A couple of bad games here and there, and you start thinking about it too much. But he does a really good job of turning that switch back on and getting right back to it.”

Bryant also has a unique ability to made adjustments quickly if things get out of whack. When most hitters are battling their swing, it can take weeks in the cage and/or video room to find the microscopic grain of sand in the machine. But Bryant has such a good feel for his mechanics and is such a student of hitting that he can sometimes make at-bat-to-at-bat adjustments. This is a skill even other major leaguers marvel at, and it’s anomalous in someone so young.

“[Making those adjustments] is hard,” Schwarber said. “I mean, you’re seeing the best pitching from around the world. These guys are getting paid a lot of money to get you out, and you have to make adjustments on the fly because they start picking up on what your weaknesses are pretty quick.”

When a player appears to be a perfectly tuned hitting machine, it can be easy to forget he’s also a human being. While Bryant was racking up accolades last year, he was also adjusting to a completely different life, both on and off the field. Almost every pitcher he faced last season was new to him, meaning he had very little intelligence on how they would attack him and what their pitches would look like in real time. And that doesn’t even factor in what it feels like to stand in the batter’s box at Dodger Stadium for the first time.

“It’s great to get to know the pitchers better,” Bryant said. “It’s not just me going up there and saying, ‘Oh man, it’s Max Scherzer. I saw him on TV. He was on my fantasy team a couple of years ago.’ You know? He’s just another guy in the big leagues, and you have to approach it that way. Every pitcher is a nameless, faceless opponent, and that will be easier this year.

“That’s the biggest thing when you get up there and you start facing guys who are household names. Playing against guys like that, it’s really hard to get over that hump and realize that it’s just another game of baseball, just at a different level, with cameras everywhere and a whole lot of fans in the stands.”

One factor that made last season even more complicated was the constant scrutiny he was under. Every time Bryant came to the plate in 2016, it was like Christmas morning for the media and fans. What will he do this time? Can he clear the new left-field video board? When will he detonate the next walk-off bomb?

While the hype may not dissipate given his rookie performance and the expectations saddling this 2016 Cubs squad, Bryant is more of a known commodity this year, and there are plenty of other stars around him to pull focus.

“The whole hype thing and the tuning in to every at-bat, it’s something as a player, I don’t know if you really want that,” Bryant said. “You just want to go out there and play your game. I think this year will be a little bit more of that. Just let me go out there and play and do what I do on the field and kind of keep all that other stuff a little bit more quiet, which will be nice for me and the team.”

In some ways, baseball has always come easy to Bryant. But it’s nearly impossible to prepare a person for the constant stream of demands and opportunities that accompanies celebrity. And Bryant is undeniably a celebrity.

Though he is surprisingly grounded and calm, he still leaned heavily on his clubhouse mates to ease him through the adjustment period. It helped that he was far from the only rookie sensation on the team, as he came up in the same season as Addison Russell, Schwarber and Jorge Soler. Another plus was that the team was in the hunt all season long. There was little time for clubhouse hazing and rookie initiations (though the rookies did have to put on princess dresses for the occasional flight) with the club fighting for a playoff spot down the stretch.

“It definitely was easier because we had so many young guys, but it wasn’t just because of all the young guys,” Schwarber said. “The veteran presences around us brought us in. It was, ‘You’re part of this team, and let’s go.’

“It definitely makes it easier when you have a group of guys up here who are so worried about winning, they don’t really have time to waste. It’s time to go, and when we get up here, they don’t treat us any differently. They treat us with respect, and we treat them with respect.”

Bryant’s true partner in crime on the Cubs is Anthony Rizzo. The two fun-loving former top prospects bonded almost immediately last year, spawning the Bryzzo phenomenon, which has since been immortalized in a commercial for

“We just have fun, we’re young,” Bryant said. “We just have a good time on the field and goofing around in the locker room. It really isn’t just us though. There are so many people here and different personalities who like to goof around. But he’s a really good guy. He does a lot for the community. He’s someone I look up to in terms of that. He does so much for people and treats everybody with respect. It’s good to see that out of a superstar.”

Bryant is a firm believer in working hard when it’s time to work and getting completely away from the game during his downtime. That philosophy is not altogether different from the way manager Joe Maddon handles things, and it may be the key to a healthy major-league lifestyle. Across every sport, there have been plenty of athletes who have lost their way when the “A-Rod” or “Johnny Football” or “Star-bury” alter egos overwhelmed their real lives.

While the offseason was busy for Bryant, he did manage a little rest and relaxation. Aside from getting engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Jessica Delp, he said the best thing he did this winter was travel to Hawaii. He spent some time on the islands watching the pro surfing tour and paddle boarding, but he also tapped into his inner adrenaline junkie by taking helicopter rides and, yes, swimming with sharks—a little escapade that set the Cubs Twitterverse aflutter. When Bryant initially posted a video of his underwater encounter to his Instagram account, it looked as if he was swimming freely with the man-eaters. Rest assured, he was safely ensconced in a protective cage.

“I was not free-swimming with sharks,” Bryant said, laughing. “I don’t even know if they’d let you do that. No way I’d ever do that. But it was cool. There was a little mystery behind it, but I was definitely in the cage. I didn’t mind doing it. I wasn’t scared at all. I knew we’d be in a cage. I was more worried about the boat ride out there because I get super seasick. I was just like, ‘Just get me in the water, let me see these sharks and then let’s go back.’”

Despite his many successes in the game, Bryant is constantly and furiously driven to get better, which means he also spent plenty of time this offseason working on his swing. Though that trademark uppercut was good enough to deliver a unanimous Rookie of the Year Award, it wasn’t good enough for him. When asked to grade his first year in the bigs, Bryant was a stern evaluator.

“In terms of handling everything that came my way—the struggles, the tension, the craziness—I’d give myself an A+,” he said. “I was really able to kind of tune that out and just go out there and play my game and help the team win. I was pretty proud of myself for doing that.

“Overall, maybe a B+. I’m pretty hard on myself—like, a lot. There are areas last year where I can think back on not getting the runner in from third base or making a silly error, that kind of thing. I really want to get better at that. I think I’ll always give myself a B+ or a B. It’s just who I am. I just want to continue to get better and be the best I can be and not be complacent or settle for anything less.”

For many, the second year in the big leagues can be harder than the first. Even a player as heralded as Bryant essentially arrives in The Show as a mystery, but now pitchers have detailed scouting reports on him. Plus, they have faced Bryant mano a mano, so they know how he reacts to their arsenal.

To offset this, Bryant spends a lot of time in the video room studying opposing pitchers, but he said he doesn’t immerse himself in it because watching too much video can be detrimental to him. He just wants to know what each pitcher throws and how their pitches move. After that, he trusts his swing and his ability to make real-time adjustments.

“Once I figure something out that I did wrong and I make that adjustment, I’m so determined to fix it,” Bryant said. “I think that’s really what sets me apart in terms of my mentality is just that determination and the desire to change what’s not going good for me. That’s really what’s gotten me this far, and I hope I can continue to learn how to be even quicker at making adjustments so that my game can go to different levels.”

As far as the Cubs coaching staff is concerned, Bryant is already well ahead of the curve for a player of his age and experience level. Mallee said once the second-year phenom learns to relax from at-bat to at-bat and let the game come to him, the result could be scary for opposing pitchers.

“Kris’ ability to hit and recognize pitches and command the strike zone is outstanding,” Mallee said. “As a young hitter, he gets in trouble sometimes because he tries to do it all in this at-bat instead of being patient. When he’s patient, he walks a bunch.

“He’s going to become a better hitter, and he’s learning that with the lineup we have, he doesn’t have to get that hit. The next guy behind him has a chance to get the hit. He just has to look for a good pitch to hit, [and if] he doesn’t get it, [he’ll] just take his walk and let the next [guy come] up.”

So how does a man who has gone from relative anonymity to the owner of the second-best-selling jersey in the game in just three years’ time stay grounded, avoid the sophomore slump and manage the colossal expectations on his back after his spectacular freshman campaign? Somehow, he handles it all with the same steady hand that smoothed his transition into the upper echelon of baseball and instant celebrity.

“I have no problem with those expectations, because mine are way bigger than theirs—than anybody’s out there,” Bryant said. “My expectations are the sky. I’ve always had that mentality. I think if you don’t set your expectations high, if you don’t write your goals down and make them lofty or crazy or record-breaking goals, then you shouldn’t be playing this game. That’s what I do all the time. I write my goals down, what I want to do as an individual and as a team, and I look back on them at the end of the year. There are some I don’t get, but there are some where I’m like, ‘Wow, I did that. That’s pretty good. Let’s make it even higher next year.’”

Opposing pitchers beware.

—Gary Cohen

Cubs Bryant claims NL Rookie of the Year Award


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant was unanimously named the National League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America on Monday. Bryant received all 30 of the possible first-place votes for a total of 150 points. San Francisco’s Matt Duffy placed second with 70 points.

Bryant is the first player in franchise history to earn unanimous Rookie of the Year honors and the sixth player in team history to win overall, the first since catcher Geovany Soto in 2008. Outfielder Billy Williams (1961), infielder Ken Hubbs (1962), outfielder Jerome Walton (1989) and right-handed pitcher Kerry Wood (1998) join Bryant and Soto as Rookies of the Year in club history.

The 23-year-old Bryant was a 2015 National League All-Star and led all major league rookies in several offensive categories, including 26 home runs (tied), 99 RBI, 31 doubles and 87 runs scored while placing second with 77 walks.  Bryant is only the second player in major league history to reach those totals in homers, RBI, doubles, runs and walks in his rookie campaign, joining Boston’s Ted Williams in 1939. Bryant this year also set rookie franchise records in home runs, RBI, total bases (273) and extra-base hits (62).

Bryant became only the sixth rookie in franchise history to make the NL All-Star team, the first since both Soto and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome in 2008.  Bryant was the club’s first rookie infielder to make the squad since second baseman Don Johnson in 1944 and the club’s first 23-year-old or younger third baseman to make the team since 23-year-old Ron Santo in 1963.

Overall, Bryant batted .275 (154-for-559) with a .369 on-base percentage and a .488 slugging percentage in 151 games with the Cubs this season. He earned National League Rookie of the Month honors in both May and August, only the second Cubs rookie to earn multiple honors in a season (Soto, twice in 2008).

Award Watch: Why Bryant is deserving of Rookie of the Year honors

(Photo by Stephen Green)

A constant topic of conversation throughout the 2015 baseball season was the quantity of quality rookies scattered among major league rosters. The baseball world has seen its fair share of hot-commodity prospects make a splash in their debut seasons, but what made this season so unique was the sheer number of young position players immediately thrust into pivotal roles within their club.

In the National League alone, there were seven players who finished with an fWAR of 2.8 or better. Los Angeles’ Joc Pederson tied for the NL rookie lead with 26 home runs; Cubs’ infielder Addison Russell saved 19 runs according to Fangraph’s defensive runs saved (DRS) statistic; and the Phillies’ Odubel Herrera hit .297, the highest batting average of any first-year player with 500 plate appearances. None of those players were listed as finalists for Monday’s award. Instead, it was Giants second baseman Matt Duffy, Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang and Cubs slugger Kris Bryant.

The balanced Duffy did a lot of everything for his Giants club, hitting .297/.334/.428 with 12 homers, driving in 77 runs, swiping 12 bases and serving as a solid defensive player. Kang, who came over from South Korea prior to his age-28 season, provided a little more power and a little less speed, but was essentially the same player offensively, finishing the year at .287/.355/.461 with 15 homers. Both players should serve as key pieces of their respective clubs for the next few seasons. That said, both will likely finish runner-up to fellow nominee Bryant.

Fangraphs calculated the Cubs third baseman to be worth 6.5 wins above replacement, which was not only 1.6 higher than the next-best offensive rookie total (Duffy), but the fourth-best mark for a first-year NL hitter since 1900. It trails only perennial All-Star Dick Allen’s 1964 mark of 8.2 and a pair of eventual Hall of Famers in Mike Piazza (7.4 in 1993) and Albert Pujols (7.2 in 2001).

Bryant entered the 2015 season with more hype than any offensive player since Bryce Harper in 2012. Upon arrival, opposing pitchers approached the 23-year-old as if he’d been around the league for a decade, cautiously keeping balls away and in the dirt. As a result, it took 21 big league games for fans to finally see the prospect with an uncanny knack for driving the ball out of the park hit his first home run. But what took place in the 20 games prior demonstrated Bryant’s plate discipline, as he kicked off his pro career with an .411 on-base percentage, largely behind his 17 walks.

When the home runs started coming, however, they didn’t stop. Bryant wrapped up the season with 26 homers, a .378 on-base percentage, 99 RBI, 87 runs scored and 31 doubles; all best among NL rookies. His 77 bases on balls trailed only Pederson for the rookie lead.

The All-Star also demonstrated his ability push his way through personal slumps. After a tough July that saw him go .168/.270/.368 with four homers, he bounced back to hit .323/.400/.567 with 12 homers on the rest of the season.

Aside from his home run total, which tied him for 11th in the NL, the slugger thrust himself into the league’s elite group of power bats. His .488 slugging percentage and .213 isolated power percentage (ISO)—a statistic that indicates the number of extra bases a player averages per at-bat—were good for 12th.

Weighted runs created is a statistic designed to interpret an individual’s effort and quantify it into runs contributed to his team. Bryant managed to compile a wRC of 103, which ranked ninth in the NL and was a shade below Fangraphs’ estimated mark for excellence (105). His total is about 30 points better than the league-average mark.

There were other facets of Bryant’s game that quietly made him the Rookie of the Year favorite in 2015. Despite his 6-foot-5 frame, manager Joe Maddon regarded the young player as one of the best baserunners on the team. In addition to swiping 13 bases and only getting caught four times, Fangraphs’ ultimate base running (UBR)—a statistic that values base advancement and puts it into the value of runs—estimated Bryant’s heads-up approach was good for 3.5 runs, third among all NL players.

The big question mark entering the season (aside from when Bryant will come up) was where he’ll wind up playing defensively. Given his height, many believed it would be detrimental for Bryant to continue his career at third base. Balls get on defenders quicker there, and it can be more difficult for taller players to get down in time. But he managed to hold his own at the hot corner, finishing with an above-average 3 defensive runs saved despite 17 errors.

What was also exciting about his defense was his willingness and ability to play wherever he was needed. Seven games into his major league career, he was thrust into a start at center field, a spot he hadn’t played since college. In total, he had 98 errorless innings in the outfield, where he could see increased time moving forward.

The 2015 rookie class was one for the ages and one that will likely include All-Stars and award winners for years to come. But based on the 2015 season, nobody stands to receive more All-Star nods and award nominations moving forward than Bryant.

—Phil Barnes

Bryant named NL Rookie of the Month for May


Photo by Stephen Green

Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday that Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant has been named the National League Rookie of the Month for May.

Bryant, 23, led major league rookies with 22 RBI during the month, and his seven home runs ranked second. He is the first Cubs rookie to record at least 22 RBI in the month of May since Bob Speake had 29 RBI in 1955 and Ernie Banks had 27 RBI in 1954. All told, Bryant hit .265 (27-for-102) with two doubles, a triple, seven homers, 22 RBI, 20 runs scored, 16 walks, three stolen bases, a .369 on-base percentage and a .510 slugging percentage last month.

The Cubs first-round selection and second-overall pick in the 2013 draft, Bryant is batting .273 (42-for-154) with seven homers, seven doubles, one triple, 33 RBI, 28 runs scored and 27 walks in 42 games since making his big league debut on April 17. The right-handed batter recorded a 12-game hitting streak from May 11-23, in which he hit .349 with a 1.108 OPS. The 12-game streak tied fellow rookie Addison Russell for the longest by a Cub this season and is tied for the longest by a Cubs rookie since Jerome Walton’s 30-game hitting streak in 1989.

Bryant enters tonight tied for eighth in the NL in walks and ranks 13th in the NL in RBI. Additionally, he leads all rookies in RBI and on-base percentage (.387) and ranks among the top five NL rookies in batting average, home runs, runs scored, hits, total bases (72), walks, steals (5) and slugging (.468).

Cubs Minor League Recap: 4/15/15

Iowa captured a win in New Orleans, and Tennessee was victorious in its home opener Friday. South Bend was on the losing end of a one-run contest, while Myrtle Beach was rained out. Here are some notes from yesterday’s minor league action:

Iowa Cubs (4-3)
Third Place (-1.5)

Third baseman Kris Bryant (.321) crushed his third homer of the season and drove in his 10th RBI, helping the I-Cubs to a 10-7 victory at New Orleans. The second game of the doubleheader was rained out.

  • 2B Addison Russell (.355) went 3-for-4 with a double, three RBI and two runs scored. He has brought in a run in three of the last four games.
  • CF Junior Lake (.250) went 2-for-2 with a double and a run scored.
  • RF Rubi Silva (.263) went 2-for-4 with a sixth inning, run-scoring double.
  • 1B Jonathan Mota (.500) went 2-for-3, driving in a run and scoring twice. He is 7-for-12 with four runs in his last four games.

Tennessee Smokies (4-2)
Second Place (-1.0)

Tennessee topped Pensacola 5-4 in its home opener. Three Smokies players had multi-hit games.

  • C Willson Contreras (.500) went 2-for-4 with a double and scored once. This is his third consecutive multi-hit game.
  • 2B Stephen Bruno (.389) went 2-for-4 with an RBI, a stolen base and a run scored.
  • 1B Dan Vogelbach (.476) went 2-for-3, walked once and scored once. He is 7-for-11 with three runs
    in his last three appearances.
  • RHP Michael Jensen (0.00) earned the win, pitching 2.0 shutout innings, giving up two hits and
    fanning two batters.

South Bend Cubs (3-5)
Sixth Place (-4.0)

South Bend got out to an early lead with a two-run homer from 3B Jesse Hodges (.207) in the second inning, but Fort Wayne rallied in the eighth, topping the Cubs 7-6 in extras.

  • C Cael Brockmeyer (.423) had his third multi-hit game of the season, walked once and scored twice. He has a four-game hitting streak.
  • 2B Jason Vosler (.304) went 2-for-4, hit a double and scored once.
  • LF Charcer Burks (.296) went 3-for-4 and plated one.
  • CF Trey Martin (.290) had his third consecutive multi-hit game.
  • RHP Jeremy Null (1.64) tossed a quality start, giving up two earned runs off seven hits and fanning six batters.

Cubs bring up Kris Bryant; activate Chris Denorfia from DL

Bryant_Kris_Horiz.JPGThe Chicago Cubs today selected the contract of infielder Kris Bryant from Triple-A Iowa and activated outfielder Chris Denorfia off of the 15-day disabled list. Infielder Mike Olt was placed on the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to April 15) with a hairline fracture in his right wrist, and right-handed pitcher Neil Ramirez was placed on the 15-day disabled list (retroactive to April 16) with right shoulder inflammation.

Bryant, who will wear uniform number 17, and Denorfia will be available for the Cubs this afternoon when they begin a three-game series against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field.

Bryant, 23, joins the Cubs after hitting .321 (9-for-28) with three homers and 10 RBI in seven games with Iowa. He was Chicago’s first-round pick in the 2013 Draft (second overall) and entered 2015 ranked as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. He earned 2014 Minor League Player of the Year honors from Baseball America, USA Today and the Cubs after hitting .325 and leading the minors with 43 homers, 78 extra-base hits, 325 total bases, a .661 slugging mark and a 1.098 OPS, while ranking third with 110 RBI between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa.

After being selected by the Cubs out of the University of San Diego, Bryant combined to hit .336 with 14 doubles, two triples and nine homers in 36 games across three minor league levels that summer, culminating with a 2013 Florida State League Championship and 2013 Arizona Fall League Joe Black MVP honors after leading the league with six homers, a .457 slugging percentage and 56 total bases.

Bryant began the 2014 campaign with his first stop at Double-A and batted .355 with 22 homers and 58 RBI in 68 games with Tennessee to earn a spot on the Southern League All-Star team and a promotion to Triple-A on June 19, just a little more than a year after he was drafted. He batted .295 with 21 homers and 52 RBI in 70 games with Iowa. Bryant also started at third base for the U.S. Team at the All-Star Futures game in Minnesota. Overall, he has turned in a .327 batting average with 55 homers and 152 RBI in 181 minor league games.

As a junior at San Diego, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Bryant won the 2013 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award, was the Baseball America Player of the Year, the 2013 Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year and the 2013 Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year. Bryant is a native of Las Vegas and a graduate of Bonanza High School.

Denorfia, 34, began the season on the 15-day disabled list due to a mild left hamstring strain. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder split the 2014 campaign between San Diego and Seattle and combined to bat .230 with 12 doubles and three homers in 121 games. He played in two rehab games for Single-A Myrtle Beach, going 1-for-3 with a double.

Overall, Denorfia is a career .272 hitter in 705 games covering all or part of nine seasons with Cincinnati (2005-06), Oakland (2008-09), San Diego (2010-14) and Seattle (2014). He has averaged 21 doubles, four triples, nine homers and 13 stolen bases per 162 games played while turning in a career .331 on-base percentage and a .394 slugging mark.  Denorfia has played 352 big league games in right field, 248 games in left field and 164 games in center field.

Olt, 26, is hitting .133 (2-for-15) with one homer and one RBI in six games for the Cubs this season.

Cubscast Mesa: No Average Joe, Impressions of Joe Maddon

This spring, we talked to Cubs players and personnel about everything from their goals for the season to the best prank they’ve ever pulled. With the official Cactus League season wrapping up Wednesday, we round out our spring video series by looking at what the Cubs are getting in new leader Joe Maddon. The 61-year-old skipper has a unique way of relating to players and keeping the clubhouse loose, from having a DJ play on the practice field to wearing old-school coaching shorts during workouts.

And make sure you check out all the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …
Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I could have one talent or superpower
Cubscast Mesa: The Cubs are setting a positive tone in camp
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, What the Cubs are watching on TV
Cubscast Mesa: The next wave of Cubs talent
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, The best thing I did this offseason
Cubscast Mesa: Goals for the 2015 season
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, The best clubhouse prank I’ve ever seen

Cubs reduce spring roster; assign Baez, Bryant, Russell to minors

The Cubs have assigned three high-profile players to minor league camp, reducing their spring roster from 38 to 35 players.

Infielder Javier Baez has been optioned to Triple-A Iowa.

Two nonroster invitees have been assigned to minor league camp: infielders Kris Bryant and Addison Russell.

Chicago’s spring roster of 35 players consists of 18 pitchers (one nonroster invitee), four catchers (one nonroster invitee), six infielders (one nonroster invitee) and seven outfielders.