Kris Bryant’s debut didn’t end the way many were hoping when it came to the 0-for-4 mark in the box score.
But Bryant still managed to impress in another facet of the game: defense.
It was just one day — and should be taken with the same grain of salt as his three-strikeout day— but Bryant’s performance in the field on Friday might put a bring a bit of a ceasefire in the debate over whether or not the No. 1 prospect in baseball can remain at third base for an extended time to start off his major league career.
Theo Epstein, for one, thinks Bryant can stick at third base, trumpeting that potential Friday after there’s been much discussion over where Bryant will settle in the field.
“He’s got some versatility, where we feel comfortable with him in the outfield and third base, but I think this guy can stay at third base for a while,” Epstein said. “He wants to, he’s invested in it, he’s really athletic. He faces some challenges playing third because he’s 6-foot-5 1/2, but he’s aware of it. He works extremely hard. He brings great focus to the position. I think there’ll be some bumps in the road, as there are for all young players, but I think he’s got a chance to stay there for a long time.
“But he’s also a tremendous athlete and plays a really good outfield. So we’ll just see how his career evolves. Not too many players these days stay at one position their entire career. But I think the need right now is at third base, and we’re very comfortable with his defensive abilities working and continuing to improve.”
Friday featured Bryant making every play that came his way at the hot corner — and he was very busy — including starting a pair of double plays and making a highlight-reel diving snag on a rocket off the bat of San Diego Padres catcher Derek Norris.
For the guy who was called up because of his prowess with the bat — he launched 55 home runs in 181 minor league games — the lack of success at the dish and the strong day with the glove was surprising.
“We did bring him up for his glove, didn’t we?” Cubs manager Joe Maddon joked after Friday’s game.
Maddon’s joke aside, he had his own opinion on Bryant’s future in the field.
“It’s not impossible (for Bryant to play outfield),” Maddon said. “That’s something me and him talked about. … He likes playing the outfield, and that was good to know. I didn’t know that, I didn’t know how much he liked to play the outfield. When you’re asking guys to do multiple things like that, part of it is their acceptance, and if they accept it, it makes it a lot easier to do and normally they play better because of that. So I think (the outfield) could be possible, but I think it’s really intriguing to see if he can nail down third base, too.”
And if Friday was any indication, that could be a very real possibility. Madden certainly was impressed.
“I liked his defense,” Maddon said Saturday morning. “I’m watching that whole game, he played really well out there. That was really impressive. To me that was our bigger concern because you know he’s going to do (fine at the plate).”
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Of course, a “concern” with a player the caliber of Bryant’s has to be taken in perspective.
That’s what Mike Olt is for.
“He’s a good defensive player,” Olt said Saturday. Olt’s injury was the determining factor in the Cubs calling Bryant up on Friday, according to Epstein. “Everyone’s quick to judge little things that could be wrong with him. People don’t think he’s human, so they’ve got to pick something. I think he did really well. He’s a good third baseman.”
The defensive effort was part of the reason Bryant was so pleased with his major league debut. Of course, for a 23-year-old kid realizing a lifelong dream, there wasn’t much that was going to ruin it. But while he wasn’t happy with the 0-for-4, three-strikeout game, he was happy with how he played in the field, pointing out to everyone focusing on the hitless debut that there are two sides of the ball.
“You have bad games, but I felt like I did good defensively,” Bryant said. “Always two sides of the ball, and I’ll keep on keeping on and come out here tomorrow ready to go, hungry and ready to help the team win.”