Cubs

What Kris Bryant’s off-the-charts versatility means for Cubs

What Kris Bryant’s off-the-charts versatility means for Cubs

SAN FRANCISCO – So much hype surrounded Kris Bryant from the moment the Cubs drafted him No. 2 overall in 2013 that it felt like everyone assumed he would inevitably become one of the best players in the game.

The hot-button debate went national and the free-agent payday looked so automatic that when the Cubs assigned Bryant to minor-league camp last year – gaining control through the 2021 season – the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement saying: “Today is a bad day for baseball.”

Before his 24th birthday, Bryant had earned an All-Star selection, helped transform the Cubs into a 97-win team and become the National League’s Rookie of the Year.    

You almost take it for granted because Bryant does all this in a way that highlights the nickname Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper remembered from when they were growing up as baseball prodigies in Las Vegas: “Silk.” 

So when Jason Heyward makes a highlight-reel catch on Friday and crashes into the wall at AT&T Park, Bryant moves from third base to right field in the first inning. And then hits a home run off Jake Peavy in the second inning, helping beat the San Francisco Giants with a four-RBI night.  

Or when the Cubs need to get through 13 innings – like they did in outlasting the Milwaukee Brewers last week at Miller Park – manager Joe Maddon has the freedom to move Bryant from left field to either side of the infield.  

“It’s really phenomenal to have somebody that young and that versatile,” Maddon said. “When I first met him, I didn’t realize all of that. I didn’t know. I didn’t know enough about him. The thing that’s really interesting about him is that last year when we talked to him about playing the outfield, he didn’t blanch. Like: ‘Yes, I’m fine.’

“He’s kind of like Zobrist. ‘Zo’ was exactly the same way, never really hesitated at all.”

Except Ben Zobrist had been an under-the-radar sixth-round pick of the Houston Astros who spent parts of three years on the Triple-A level and didn’t establish himself as an everyday player until his age-28 season with the Tampa Bay Rays. 

Zobrist didn’t have Bryant’s status as Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect or a marketing machine working behind him. These seamless transitions say a lot about Bryant, a super-utility franchise player. 

“I’m really just embracing it,” Bryant said. “Wherever they need me, I’m going to give it my all. But some guys are swinging the bats at certain positions – and forcing me to move around a little bit – and I’m OK with it.”

Remember when the Cubs kept Bryant off the 2015 Opening Day roster and said they wanted him to get into a defensive rhythm at Triple-A Iowa? 

In the end, those seven games didn’t really matter in terms of player development. Just look at how Bryant charged in from third base and made a barehanded play to throw out Brandon Belt at first and end the first inning on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”  

“Listen, I have so much confidence putting a position after his name anywhere,” Maddon said. “Put him in center field. I’ve told you before, I think he can play shortstop. This guy is really that good of an athlete. 

“You’ve noticed how much his throwing’s improved from the beginning of the season last year until right now. The accuracy of his throwing has really gotten better, because his feet have gotten better. 

“I really have no hesitation putting him anywhere.”

Looking beyond Maddon’s lineup creativity and in-game magic and taking a wide-angle view of this six-year window for the Cubs, that off-the-charts versatility becomes such a valuable insurance policy against injuries, underperformance and prospects who aren’t as polished as, well, Bryant. 

Cubs Talk Podcast: David Bote’s wild ride and a huge test for Cubs pitchers

bote-421.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: David Bote’s wild ride and a huge test for Cubs pitchers

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ series win over the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field, which capped off with yet another David Bote walk-off and a surprising performance from Tyler Chatwood. They also break down where this Cubs team is at as they get set to welcome the high-powered Dodgers offense into Chicago later in the week.

:30 – The Kelly Effect

1:00 – David Bote’s wild ride

2:00 – El Mago’s magic pays off for Cubs yet again

3:30 – Bote’s adjustments

6:40 – Chatwood’s big day

8:50 – What’s next for Chatwood?

10:10 – Lester’s return is right around the corner

11:30 – Cubs pitching firing on all cylinders

12:00 – Did Kap jinx Strop?

13:30 – Dodgers pose a big challenge for Cubs pitching staff

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Add another chapter to David Bote's incredible story

Add another chapter to David Bote's incredible story

David Bote had to be feeling like the luckiest guy on Earth.

The Cubs were humming along in their quickest game of the season and two outs away from a 1-0 victory on a picture-perfect Easter Sunday at Wrigley Field. That was good news for him, because he had a flight to catch — doctors were inducing his wife, Rachel, and she was going to be giving birth to their third child that night.

Then Bote watched as Arizona's light-hitting outfielder Jarrod Dyson — he of 16 homers in 744 career games coming into the afternoon — sent a Pedro Strop pitch into the right-field bleachers in the top of the ninth inning to extend the game.

So Bote took things into his own hands.

Javy Baez led off the Cubs' half of the ninth with a double down the right field line, advanced to third on an error and then Willson Contreras was plunked by Diamondbacks reliever Archie Bradley.

Up stepped Bote, who watched a curve for Ball 1 and then narrowly got out of the way of a 95 mph fastball ticketed for his left temple. Bradley came back with a curve for a strike and Bote knew what to look for, waiting on another curveball and hammering it through the drawn-in infield for the Cubs' 10th win of the season. 

Minutes later, Bote had bolted out of Wrigley Field, heading back home to Colorado for the birth of Baby No. 3.

Speaking of which, Bote's walk-off hit Sunday came exactly 36 weeks (a little over eight months) after his ultimate grand slam to beat the Washington Nationals...

"It's a grand slam baby and now it's another walk-off for him," teammate Anthony Rizzo joked.

This is just the latest chapter in the incredible story of Bote, an 18th-round draft pick who endured seven seasons in the minor leagues before being called up to the majors. He doesn't even have a full year of service time in "The Show" yet, but he's already proven he belongs and carved out a permanent spot on the roster before signing a 5-year, $15 million extension earlier this month.

"From the homer last year, there was a lot of pressure and he slowed everything down," Baez said. "He just keeps getting better and he knows he's got talent and he can do it. He's got a lot of confidence coming off the bench and he's been huge for this team."

This was Bote's 42nd career RBI and it was already his 4th walk-off RBI. That means nearly 10 percent of his career RBI have come via walk-off situation.

"It's nice. He's had experience early [in those situations]," Rizzo said. "You can't teach that. He's had a lot of situations like that and he's come through. It's fun to watch."

This was only the 10th start of the season for Bote in the Cubs' 20th game, but he's found a way to stay sharp. 

After his 2-hit game Sunday, he's now slashing .295/.380/.455 on the season and showing off the adjustments he's made after hitting just .176 with a .559 OPS after that ultimate grand slam last year.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.