Kris Bryant has been in Major League Baseball for exactly one year now — and what a year it’s been.
Drafted by the Chicago Cubs with the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, Bryant made his major league debut on April 17, 2015, and things didn’t go so well. Kris went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against the San Diego Padres. Exactly one year later, ahead of the Cubs’ afternoon game with the Colorado Rockies, Bryant received his MLB Players Choice Award for National League Outstanding Rookie. The trophy should look good next to the National League Rookie of the Year trophy Bryant won last fall.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 17, 2016
Kris Bryant’s path to the major leagues didn’t come without roadblocks. After leading all of baseball in home runs in last year’s spring training, Bryant was left off of the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, instead starting the season in Triple-A Iowa, mainly due to service time rules that stated if Bryant spent 12 days in the minor leagues, the Cubs would receive another year of club control on his contract.
Instead of dwelling on the issue, Bryant just went out and played baseball. He won the National League Rookie of the Month in May after hitting seven home runs with 22 runs batted in, hit his first grand slam in June, and played in his first All-Star Game in July. Bryant told the MLB website that adjusting to life in the majors really wasn’t that difficult.
“I don’t feel any different than I would have growing up. I’m out there just playing in front of more people on an awesome field.”
As Kris Bryant’s season continued, so did the pressure, especially as the Cubs got into playoff contention. As a player who can get on base but also hit for power, Bryant’s bat was obviously wanted in the Cubs’ lineup on an everyday basis, which sometimes meant that he would have to play multiple positions to make room for some of the other big bats on the club, a challenge that Kris openly embraces.
“I kind of enjoy it, just playing all over the place. Playing Wiffle ball in the street when I was younger, it was all over. So it’s a lot of fun for me.”
It’s that boyish attitude that has made Kris Bryant one of the most well-liked youngsters in all of baseball. He may not have the flash of someone like the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper, who’s actually someone that Kris grew up playing with in Las Vegas, but he’s proven that he’s got the game to be considered one of baseball’s elite young players. Bryant has also become one of baseball’s most marketable players, as evidenced by his many endorsement contracts, including his recent deal as a Brand Ambassador with EXPRESS.
While Bryant was comfortable in making the jump from the minors to the majors, he openly admits that he’s still not used to seeing his face plastered on billboards. Bryant told CSN Chicago that his teammates are certainly having a lot of fun with it.
“I guess that’s one of the things that come along with it. I never in a million years would have thought that [I’d see my face on billboards]. I’m having a lot of fun with it. I know these guys [are, too].
“They don’t give me a hard time. They just show me the selfies with me in it. It’s all in good fun.”
While the endorsements are fun, Kris Bryant knows that what he does on the field will always be the most important thing. Bryant did live up to the hype that surrounded him in his first season, hitting .275 with 26 home runs and 99 runs batted in on the way to that aforementioned Rookie of the Year trophy. The Cubs also made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, winning the Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and beating the rival St. Louis Cardinals in four games in the NLDS before being swept by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series. Expectations are even higher in 2016 and Kris Bryant is one of the main reasons for that. All he wants to do is get even better.
“I’ve always been about action, doing it on the field and not worrying about what people are saying about me or anything like that, because I know deep down I want to be better than what everybody is saying about me. I think I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have that type of mentality and desire to just continue to learn, be better and become that all-around baseball player.
“I guess that’s what continues to push me.”
If next year is finally here on the North Side and Kris Bryant is only going to get better, year two may be something quite special.
[AP Photo/Morry Gash]