After a multi-strikeout performance in his big league debut, the critics were ready and willing to write off Kris Bryant as the Chicago Cubs’ next big bust.
After just over a month with the team, however, critics are few and far between and those remaining are largely silent – all because of the work the 23-year-old prodigy has turned in at the dish over the course of his first 33 games.
Despite missing the first two weeks of the season, Bryant leads all Cubs hitters with his 27 runs batted in and ranks third on the team, behind Anthony Rizzo and Chris Coghlan, with five long-balls. He’s done all this, despite having a major power outage to start his career – not homering in his first 20 games.
Over the past two weeks, Bryant has been struggling a bit, batting just .263/.250/.421 – a far cry from the eye-popping numbers he produced earlier in the month. That being said, he’s still hit a pair of home runs, the latest coming at PETCO Park against the Padres, and driven in four runs, despite his shortcomings.
On a whole, though, he’s still boasting an OBP of .401 and an average of .283. He’s struck out 44 times – while drawing 24 walks. His 44 punchouts rank in the top 10 in Major League Baseball, so it’s something to keep an eye on moving forward. However, he’s demonstrated a consistent, patient approach for the most part, taking what opposing pitchers give him day-in and day-out.
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Lefties have posed the biggest challenge to Bryant so far in his young career, as he’s batting just .227 in 26 plate appearances against southpaws. Just one of his homers has come against left-handers, but he’s still put together solid at-bats, evidenced by his .346 on-base percentage (a mark that measures at .413 against righties).
With time will come adjustments, as we’ve seen already. He faced the same challenges in the Minors and ultimately wound up bringing up the league’s top honors after a monster 2014 campaign, so these limited issues are, in my opinion, of little concern.
Bryant and fellow rookie Addison Russell have made great strides under first-year manager Joe Maddon, who received the praise of the duo’s agent, Scott Boras, while the team was out west this week, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"“Joe has done a great job at the major-league level with giving these guys a psychological approach,” Boras said. “Joe Maddon is a talent. He’s very good at giving the players a focus at a variety of levels of their careers. And that has a lot to do with why they’re performing so well in their careers.”"
Russell and Bryant have played big roles in the Cubs’ strong start this season. Chicago enters play Saturday night just three-and-a-half games behind the first-place Cardinals, with an infield whose “veterans” are just 25 in Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro.
Less than three-dozen games into his big league career, it’s already abundantly clear: Kris Bryant isn’t a fad. He’s emerging as a cornerstone for a Chicago Cubs franchise longing for a face – and a championship.