Kris Bryant left no doubt about who should be the National League’s Rookie of the Year, unanimously winning the award after proving he’s a franchise player for the Cubs.
Bryant went 30-for-30 in first-place votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, which unveiled the results on Monday night, the beginning of a week that could also see Joe Maddon and Jake Arrieta win Manager of the Year and Cy Young awards as part of the franchise’s resurgence.
The buzz kept building as the Cubs won 97 games and finished with the third-best record in baseball. Bryant played a huge part in turning around what had been a last-place team in 2014, putting up 26 homers, 99 RBIs and an .858 OPS during an unforgettable All-Star season.
“There is a way to top this year,” Bryant said on a BBWAA conference call. “And that’s to win a World Series.”
Bryant won this in a landslide, finishing with 150 points to beat out two worthy finalists: San Francisco Giants third baseman Matt Duffy (70) and Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang (28).
Bryant became the first Cub to win the award since Geovany Soto in 2008. The other Cubs: Kerry Wood (1998), Jerome Walton (1989), Ken Hubbs (1962) and Hall of Famer Billy Williams (1961).
As Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect heading into the season, Bryant did all this with a huge target on his back.
The Cubs put it there when they drafted Bryant out of the University of San Diego with the second overall pick in 2013, right in the middle of a long-term rebuild for Theo Epstein’s front office and the Ricketts family that would focus on scouting and player development.
But Bryant magnified it by authorizing super-agent Scott Boras to fight his service-time battle in the media, getting his own adidas “WORTH THE WAIT” billboard across the street from the Wrigley Field marquee and shooting a down-on-the-farm advertisement with a goat for Red Bull.
Whether or not Bryant becomes a huge crossover star and cashes in on all that marketing potential, he definitely proved that he could play at this level, even with only 181 minor-league games on his resume.
“I don’t think there was any pressure for myself, just because you’re surrounded by (other young players),” Bryant said. “The only expectations that really matter are the ones that you put on yourself. And I certainly exceeded my expectations this year.”
Bryant did his live shot for the MLB Network award show with a Boras Corp. logo in the background. The third baseman obviously didn’t need those seven extra games at Triple-A Iowa to get into a “defensive rhythm” in April. The Cubs used the system to delay free agency until after the 2021 season.
“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about that much lately,” Bryant said. “I said what needed to be said earlier in the year. And right now, it’s really just enjoying the award that I won and the season that we had as a team.
“Things happen for a reason. I said it before: I think I played with a little chip on my shoulder this year. And it’s good to play that way sometimes. You really want to help your team win in any way possible. And sometimes when you have something to play for, you play even better.”
For a 6-foot-5 slugger with smash-the-video-board power and a swing that generated 199 strikeouts, Bryant still found different ways to contribute to a playoff team.
A better-than-advertised third baseman, Bryant also played all three outfield positions and even made a six-inning cameo at first base, demonstrating his versatility, athleticism and unselfish attitude.
Bryant also stole 13 bases and showed such surprising speed, aggressiveness and instincts that a major-league evaluator nicknamed him “The Untaggable Man.”
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Bryce Harper — a Rookie of the Year in 2012 and a likely MVP winner for the Washington Nationals this season — grew up in Las Vegas playing with and against Bryant and tweeted a message, hashtagging a childhood nickname for his smooth game: “Nobody deserves it more than you brotha #Silk."
Bryant became the 20th overall player to unanimously win this award, joining a list that includes Frank Robinson, Mark McGwire, Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout and Jose Abreu.
Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa — a player the Cubs once worked out at Wrigley Field and thought might fall to them at the sixth pick if things broke a certain way in the 2012 draft — won the American League Rookie of the Year hardware. Correa went No. 1 overall to Houston, but the Astros did the Cubs a favor the next year by passing on Bryant and taking pitcher Mark Appel.
The BBWAA voting closed before the playoffs began and the Cubs advanced to the NL Championship Series. Maddon — a two-time AL Manager of the Year with the Tampa Bay Rays — is a finalist along with Terry Collins (New York Mets) and Mike Matheny (St. Louis Cardinals). Arrieta is going up against a pair of aces for the Los Angeles Dodgers — Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw.
Those trophies would be nice, but after a breakthrough season, the Cubs feel so much closer to their ultimate goal and that World Series ring.
“Twenty years from now,” Bryant said, “you’re not going to remember your batting average or how many home runs you hit in a certain season. It’s going to be the championship that you won.”