With May upon us, students across the country are gearing up for the end of their semesters. While summer may be just around the corner, one last hurdle is standing between them and several months of beach and sun — their grades. Anxiety builds as they solemnly repeat to themselves in their dorms, “C’s get you degrees. C’s get you degrees…” Just like caffeine-dependent students pulling all-nighters, baseball players are subject to grades as well.
While coming up through the minors, top prospects are given grades by scouts, pegging them as having “plus power” or “plus-plus speed.” Even numerically they are judged by MLB.com when the website announces the league’s top-100 prospects. Kris Bryant was the second-overall prospect according to that list and has now been in “The Show” for almost three weeks after the Chicago Cubs called him up on April 17. There have been some ups and downs, as expected, for the young phenom. Let’s take a closer look using baseball’s time-tested five-tool judgment (speed, hitting for average, power, throwing and fielding).
Bryant was given a rating of 50 by MLB’s scouting grade for speed, so it has never been a huge part of his impressive game. That being said, he does have two steals to his credit in what has become a very run-friendly Cubs team headed by Joe Maddon. Bryant has the baseball IQ to take the extra base with his long strides when the opportunity presents itself and nab the occasional stolen base.
Grade – B
Hitting For Average:
Nobody expected Bryant to come up and spray the field with well-placed knocks, fighting off good pitches to pile up hits. His 55 rating was just barely above average. However, he has shown the ability to make solid contact consistently in the Majors, and his 16 hits are good for sixth-most on the team. Bryant’s .291 average is better than expected — this is even with his recent slump. Most scouts would assume his average will go down while his power should surge eventually. His keen eye at the plate has been even more impressive as his whopping 16 walks leads the Cubs and .458 on-base percentage is tied with Anthony Rizzo.
Grade – A
Heralded as the next big power bat in the game, Bryant’s talent was so prominent, MLB’s website said, “Bryant has everything needed to lead the Majors in homers at some point.” Well, he hasn’t quite shown it yet. In 55 at-bats, Bryant has yet to hit a home run. His “warning-track power” has already been a well-known discussion, despite his initial rating of 80 as a top prospect. He had 55 home runs in three seasons through the minors, so the strength is there. It just hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps a hike in temperature will help, but that remains to be seen — his .382 slugging percentage is underwhelming at best. A learning curve was expected for the 23 year old, and the lack of power is Bryant’s first formidable test in the big leagues.
Grade – F
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I’ll go into more details concerning fielding shortly, but his arm has been impressive. Bryant has already shown the ability to sling a throw from deep in the hole at third base and has the arm strength to gun down speedsters trying to catch the raw fielder napping. His 60 rating, which is above average, seems to have been about right.
Grade – B+
This was the second-overall pick’s Achilles heel, MLB gave him a very average rating of 50 — which many would have called generous. Standing at 6 feet 5 inches tall, Bryant’s lanky body was supposed to make bending over for hard-hit grounders at the hot corner an adventure — but he has shown good athleticism and instincts thus far. He does have three errors, so there is still much to learn, but his versatility has already been on display. Bryant has played in the outfield in three games so far this season, including being the Cubs’ starting center fielder for one of them. He likely will never be a Gold Glover caliber player, but Bryant’s fielding has been better than advertised.
Grade – B
With so much hype, it was basically impossible for Bryant to live up to it. There have been some hiccups here and there while his current slide is his first prolonged slump of the young slugger’s short career — only batting .167 in his last seven days. Despite the lack of hits, he has still gotten on base thanks to eight walks in that time frame, so the maturity to take what pitchers give him is extremely encouraging. Some quicker bat speed and perhaps a more aggressive attitude at the plate could help him get over the hump and hit some baseballs over the wall.
Grade – B
*Stats current as of 5/5/15
Be on the lookout for my Addison Russell report card coming this Thursday.