April 17, 2015. A day that will hopefully be forever in our minds as the day the Chicago Cubs shed the “lovable losers” tag for good. Super prospect Kris Bryant will make his Major League Debut and fans will undoubtedly be falling over themselves at Wrigley Field to get a peek. Don’t be surprised to see trespassers hiding in the construction of the bleachers to get a peek, ala the old days of stealing a look over the fence. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, and it almost didn’t happen.
Rewind back to 2013, the year the Cubs took Bryant with the second pick in the draft. At that time, two pitchers led the way as expected top picks–Stanford’s Mark Appel and Oklahoma’s Jonathan Gray. Bryant was in the mix at the top, but North Carolina’s Colin Moran and two high school sluggers–Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows were also thought to be ahead of him.
Seemingly every mock draft had the Cubs taking whichever pitcher didn’t go with the first pick. Jason McLeod said phooey to your mock drafts, taking the University of San Diego third baseman. Coaches will always try to “sell” their players, and USD coach Rich Hill did just that. But McLeod had known him a long time, and knew Hill would be honest.
"“Rich Hill’s going to shoot straight with me,” McLeod said. “He couldn’t speak more highly of a player and a person you would potentially bring into an organization, in terms of a teammate, the work ethic, all of those things.” h/t Phil Rogers, MLB.com"
McLeod by no means works alone, with many assistants and scouts underneath him to feed him info to make the educated choices. Enter Sam Hughes, an Atlanta-based scout who may have made the biggest rallying cry for Bryant after watching him go 6-for-12 with two home runs, two doubles, three walks and only one strikeout while playing third base and center field.
"“Sammy really pounded the table after he saw [Bryant],” McLeod said. “He said, ‘This guy really needs to be on our radar screen.’ We kept running back in [to see Bryant] … and he just exploded that year.”"
Shortly after seeing Bryant, Hughes went to see the high schoolers Frazier and Meadows. He was not in love. “I saw those kids on back-to-back days,” Hughes said. “That’s where it started getting clear to me. I’m supposed to like these two high school hitters better than Kris, and I don’t — by a long shot. ”
After Hughes, even more credit needs to be doled out. Alex Lontoya, the Cubs area South California scout and then-scouting director (current farm director) Jaron Madison all put in time to make the recommendations on Bryant.
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And even with all that, on draft day the Cubs were still unsure who they would be taking. The believed Appel would go first, and were still torn between Bryant and Gray. But the Astros could have still taken Bryant, as most camps kept their intention hush. It wasn’t until Appel was announced as the Astros pick that the Cubs knew Bryant would be a Cub.
As his rise to mythical proportions grew, it’s important to point out that Bryant was never a “sure thing”. There isn’t such a player that exists. And even now, as he makes his long-awaited debut, nothing is carved in stone. But Bryant is our chisel, and the Cubs are ready to start tapping away on some granite.