CINCINNATI – Kris Bryant could worry about blindly crashing into the wall – or another outfielder – and the career-threatening injury. He could wonder if all the defensive shifting will pull down his offensive numbers. There could be hundreds of millions of dollars at stake here.
Bryant is only a rookie – very likely the National League’s Rookie of the Year – but he still has enough stature inside the organization to tell the Cubs what he really thinks.
Even with all the hype surrounding his big-league debut, Bryant hasn’t complained or turned into a clubhouse prima donna, believing the versatility will someday pay off and buying into the team concept.
“I really think it comes down to the personal agenda of the player,” manager Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. “KB’s about winning. Only. He’s a real selfless player, man.
“He’s not worried about embarrassing himself. He knows he’s prepared to play there. He’s (just) out there playing baseball, so he’s not worried about the kind of stuff that prevents people from doing those kinds of things. His ultimate goal is to win the game.”
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Of course, super-agent Scott Boras also knows this will enhance Bryant’s value if/when he becomes a free agent after the 2021 season, marketing someone who can play all four corner positions, hit 40 homers in the middle of your lineup and accept all the face-of-the-franchise responsibilities.
Bryant played catcher in Little League but didn’t like the foul tips off his mask. He had 90-mph velocity as a part-time pitcher at Bonanza High School in Las Vegas – and even lobbied his University of San Diego coaches to let him throw – but ultimately his right arm couldn’t bounce back.
Maddon moved Bryant all around during Monday night’s 1-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Wrigley Field, starting him at first base before shifting him to center field, right field and third base in a game that lasted 11 innings.
“If you really want to understand why he’s able to do that – and then do it without any kind of like dissent – it’s because it’s one agenda,” Maddon said. “And that’s to win the game. I really believe that. Not everybody’s like that. They might be more worried about themselves.”
When they made the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, the Cubs projected Bryant’s athleticism and 6-foot-5 body and made comparisons to Troy Glaus (third base) and Jayson Werth (outfield).
“Absolutely,” Bryant said, he has a preference. “There’s more value in playing third base, especially if I can do it and continue to get better at it and make the routine play over there. That’s definitely where I want to play. That’s where I’m more comfortable, too.
“My hard work has definitely paid off over there, and I think I can only get better from here, so that’s exciting to me.”
Maybe the Cubs will sign someone like Denard Span to play center field and allow the Albert Almoras of the farm system to develop.
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But with Dexter Fowler about to become a free agent and the Cubs looking for a short-term solution next year, Bryant didn’t dismiss the idea of regularly playing center field.
“I think I can do it,” Bryant said. “I’ve said it before: Not to take anything away from Dexter, but I think center field is the easier position for me, considering in right field and left field you have to deal with the hooks on the ball.
“Those are tough to catch for a guy that’s kind of new out there. But whatever they have in store for me, I think I can definitely do it.”
That unselfish attitude means the Cubs will have options this winter if they want to trade from their surplus of hitters to get more pitching. It also provides insurance at first base in case one of those fastballs drills Anthony Rizzo in the wrong spot.
Bryant just keeps on hitting, setting franchise rookie records in homers (26) and RBI (99). Whatever the answer to this multiple-choice question, Maddon has shown he doesn’t like to keep things static.
“I’m pretty confident out there,” Bryant said. “So whatever he has up his sleeve, we’ll see what he’s got.”