Cubs

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

The evolution of Kris Bryant and why Joey Votto became his favorite player

Kris Bryant already has a bromance with Anthony Rizzo, their Bryzzo Souvenir Co. brand and a joint appearance at a downtown Chicago hotel this weekend where Cubs fans can pay $699 for their autographs.

Bryant also has a friendly rivalry with Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals superstar who loves trolling on social media and teasing where he might land as a free agent after the 2018 season. Even their wives had fun with it on Instagram earlier this month when the Nationals came to Wrigley Field for a potential playoff preview.

But the player Bryant patterns himself after now – the one who lives up to “The Science of Hitting” and the principles his father absorbed from Ted Williams and passed down in the family’s batting cage in Las Vegas – is Joey Votto.

“He’s the best player ever,” Bryant said before Wednesday night’s 7-6 walk-off win over the Cincinnati Reds. “He’s my favorite player. I love watching him. I love talking to him, just picking his brain.

“He gets a lot of (heat) about his walks and working at-bats and some people want him to swing at more pitches. But, gosh, I mean, he does an unbelievable job. You know that he’s going to give you a great at-bat every time he goes up there. It’s definitely a guy that I look up to and I can learn from.”

Favorite player? Really?

“Besides, you know, people on my team,” Bryant said with a laugh.

The Cubs contained Votto on a night where their bullpen nearly imploded, holding him to a 1-for-4 that stopped him from tying the major-league record Williams set in 1948 by getting on base at least twice in 21 straight games with the Boston Red Sox.

Through Votto, Bryant sees where he can grow after becoming a National League Rookie of the Year and MVP and World Series champion before his 25th birthday.    

“He’s not just doing it this year – he’s doing it his whole career,” Bryant said. “He’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s for sure.”

Bryant – who has reached base safely in his last 13 games and put up a 1.035 OPS in August – is heating up at a time when the Cubs are trying to fend off the Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back) and St. Louis Cardinals (2.5 games back) in a tight division race.

Where Votto famously dismissed old questions about whether or not he was being too selective, Bryant blocks out any talk about an All-Star snub, his batting average with runners in scoring position (.227) or RBI total (54). Bryant is getting on base more than 40 percent of the time and also leads the team in doubles (25), runs scored (78) and OPS (.936).  

“Sometimes it’s almost like you can kind of go up there and force the pitcher to throw the pitch that you want, just by taking pitches,” Bryant said. “My first year, I was kind of just up there swinging at everything. I still felt the approach was good and it could work in the big leagues. And it did. But I think there’s ways to have a better approach up there.

“(Votto’s) a different guy with that. I feel like he’s aggressive, but he’s not going to swing at a pitch until he wants it. And he mentioned that to me, too, when I got to first (on Monday night). He said: ‘Your approach looks a lot better this year.’”

Bryant sincerely thanked Votto, but the reigning MVP isn’t trying to put together a package deal with Harper and turn the Cubs into Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.  

“I already told him before: ‘We already have a pretty good first baseman. He’s not going anywhere,’” Bryant said. “Joey can switch positions if he wants to play for the Cubs.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

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MLB NETWORK

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

Listen to Lee Smith's entire Hall of Fame induction speech in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs trade rumors: Nick Castellanos drawing interest and could be the perfect fit

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USA TODAY

Cubs trade rumors: Nick Castellanos drawing interest and could be the perfect fit

Ever since infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist hit the restricted list for personal reasons on May 8, one of the biggest talking points around the Cubs has been the team’s need for a steady, veteran bat.

Enter Tigers outfielder Nick Castellanos.

Sunday, Chris McCosky of The Detroit News reported that the Cubs have emerged as a "serious suitor" for Castellanos, citing a source. 

McCosky’s report follows that of MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, who reported that the Cubs had a scout in attendance at Friday’s Tigers-Blue Jays game in Detroit.

It’s currently unclear what a trade package for Castellanos, 27, would look like, but his fit with the team is obvious. In Castellanos, the Cubs would acquire a veteran outfield bat, one that hits extremely well against left-handed pitching.

Castellanos, who is a free agent after this season, has mainly hit second and third for the Tigers and led the team with 23 home runs in 2018. He holds a .280/.339/.467 slashline, with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs this season. Those numbers are even better against left-handers — .377/.451/.639 — albeit in a small sample size of 61 at-bats. However, in his 6+ MLB seasons, he's hitting .302 with an .871 OPS against left-handed pitching. 

The Cubs have struggled against left-handed pitching in 2019, ranking 23rd in average (.243) and 28th in hits with 164. Castellanos would rank first among qualified Cubs hitters vs. left-handers in average and OBP and only trail Javier Baez’s .776 in slugging percentage.

While it's true that Castellanos hits left-handed pitching well, he'd instantly become an everyday player in the Cubs outfield. Thus, the Cubs depth chart would be hit with several ripple effects.

Albert Almora Jr.'s  playing time against right-handed starting pitching would be affected. Almora held a .282/.315/.369 slashline against right-handed pitching in 2018, but those numbers currently sit at .255/.291/.427.

Almora's numbers against lefites (.210/.247/.296) aren't better, but his 2018 slashline there (.295/.340/.402) leaves room for hope. Also, Kyle Schwarber is only hitting .224 against lefties, so adding Castellanos would likely mean Almora starts less against righties and Schwarber less against lefties. Almora does provide Gold Glove caliber defense, so the Cubs may be more inclined to let him work through his struggles at the plate.

Similarly, David Bote's playing time could also be affected by Castellanos. Without the latter, the Cubs have more of a need to play Kris Bryant in the outfield, meaning third base is open for Bote to play. Adding Castellanos might mean Bryant playing more third base and less outfield, so Bote would have to crack the starting lineup at second base, more likely than not. The same goes for Robel Garcia, though his bat is making it hard to keep him out of the starting lineup right now.

Between Almora and Schwarber's numbers and Zobrist’s absence, the Cubs have a glaring need for more outfield offense. Adding Castellanos could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Cubs offensively.

Update: Our David Kaplan added that the Cubs have also had discussions for Tigers closer Shane Greene.

Greene, 30, is arbitration eligible this offseason. The right-hander has converted 22 of his 25 save chances this season and has 40 strikeouts compared to 11 walks. However, his 3.54 FIP is a far cry from his 1.25 ERA, and the overriding thought has been that the Cubs would seek left-handed relief help rather than right-handed.

Greene entered Sunday with a lower ERA against lefties (0.64) than righties (1.29), though lefties are hitting .222 against him compared to .097 by righties. If the Cubs were to acquire him, he obviously wouldn't slot into the Cubs closer role, as Craig Kimbrel has the position locked down. As Kaplan noted, the cost to get both Castellanos and Greene would be steep, especially with the latter being a top relief arm on the trade market.

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