Cubs

One year later, Kris Bryant reflects on big-league debut

One year later, Kris Bryant reflects on big-league debut

It's hard to believe it's been just one year since Kris Bryant made his big-league debut.

Thanks to a mature personality and a polished game on the field, Bryant seems more like a seasoned veteran than a second-year player.

Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of Bryant's overhyped arrival to Major League Baseball, but the Cubs insist they didn't utilize the new Wrigley Field party room to celebrate the occasion (prior to the series finale against the Colorado Rockies, at least).

Bryant said he realized on Friday that his "big-league birthday" was coming up and admitted it often feels like he's been in the majors for more than a year though at the same time, the days are flying by.

"It's been a good year for me," he said. "I learned a lot along the way. I'm far from where I want to be, but I can look back and be pleased with what has happened."

It's been a roller coaster 12 months for Bryant - waiting almost a month before his first big-league homer and then cruising to an All-Star nod, a trip through the Home Run Derby, a wild pennant race, a thrilling one-game victory over the Pirates to kick off the playoffs and then the euphoria of beating the Cardinals in the NLDS before getting swept out of the NLCS by the Mets.

Bryant capped it all off by braving a winter storm to accept his National League Rookie of the Year Award in New York. 

Bryant was also honored prior to Sunday's game with the Players Choice Award for 2015 NL Outstanding Rookie.

Somehow, through it all, Bryant is able to tune out the hype - even while appearing on billboards and in commercials while becoming one of the faces of baseball.

"They're all just words," Bryant said of the hype that surrounds him. "You've gotta do it on the field. I've always been about action and doing it on the field. I'm not worried about what people are saying about me or any of that, because I know deep down, I want to do better than what they're saying about me.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't have that type of mentality and desire to just continue to learn and be better and become an all-around baseball player. It's just what pushes me."

Bryant has turned into an all-around force on the diamond. From his prolific baserunning to silencing doubters about his ability to play quality defense at third base, the 24-year-old has proven he's more than just a slugger.

"He's just different," Joe Maddon said. "No preteniousness about him whatsoever. He's a baseball player. He loves to play. Comes ready. He doesn't whine. He doesn't complain. And it's just been one year."

Over his first 162 career games, Bryant has posted an .853 OPS on a .274/.367/.486 slash line, hitting 28 homers and driving in 104 runs, good for a 6.7 WAR (by FanGraphs' metric). 

Bryant has also surprised some with 13 stolen bases and while he's struck out a whopping 209 times in his big-league career, he's also walked 83 times and has already cut down on his strikeout rate in 2016 (only 10 whiffs during his first 50 plate appearances).

In spring training, he said he felt like this season was just a continuation of 2015, only with a three-month break mixed in. 

Bryant has helped stay grounded by reminding himself that no matter what level, it's still the same game. There are just more people watching and paying attention in the big leagues.

"He's very mature," Maddon said. "The way he goes about his business, it's beyond his years. That's the best way I could tell you, man.

"He's subject to moments - like we all are - when things aren't going well, but he's pretty good at putting down yesterday and playing today. He's pretty good at putting down the previous at-bat or making a mistake on defense and coming back.

"I have a lot of faith in his ability to move on to the next moment. You gotta be that kind of guy."

Bryant said he couldn't point to one particular moment when he truly felt like a big-leaguer, but he had plenty of memories that will stick with him forever.

"There's really too many good ones and plenty of bad ones," he said. "You tend to remember the good ones. All of them. From my first game all the way until my last game [in 2015], even though we lost the last one. It was just a lot of fun.

"Walk-off home runs. Those are always fun. And then obviously making the postseason for the first time in a long time. 

"A lot of stuff to reflect on and learn from. I'm very grateful for it."

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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