Chicago Cubs: Ken Rosenthal picks against Kris Bryant for NL MVP

Mar 11, 2017; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (17) looks on prior to a spring training game against the Colorado Rockies at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2017; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (17) looks on prior to a spring training game against the Colorado Rockies at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite a Rookie of the Year followed by an NL MVP in his first two seasons, too many baseball writers continue to underestimate Chicago Cubs’ star Kris Bryant.

Even after leading his team to a World Series championship, Chicago Cubs’ third baseman Kris Bryant still doesn’t get the love he deserves.

If you’re looking at the world of baseball writers, Ken Rosenthal is likely near the top of anyone’s list. He’s one of the most well-connected reporters out there covering Major League Baseball and he clearly knows his stuff.

Which is why I’m confused at his preseason award picks. Namely, his choosing Washington Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper over Bryant for National League MVP.

"I don’t know what the heck happened to Harper after mid-May last season, but my suspicion is that his struggles resulted in part from some type of injury. Well, he worked out like a demon in the offseason, and he’s too smart not to figure out the rest."

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Last season, Bryant ran away with the honors, leading the league with 121 runs – all the while setting new career-highs with 39 home runs and 102 runs batted in. Not only was he a force in the Cubs’ order, but he drastically cut down his strikeout percentage and played multiple positions for manager Joe Maddon.

So, two years into his big-league career, he has a Rookie of the Year award, an NL MVP, two All-Star appearances and a World Series ring.

But, okay, sure. Let’s pick Harper – who might be the most overrated player in all of baseball.

Oft-injured, hype outpaces performance

Remember when Bryce Harper was proclaimed to be the second-coming of Mickey Mantle?

In five years with Washington, the young outfielder has put it all together once – when he won the NL MVP in 2015. That year, he batted an eye-popping .330/.460/.649 with a league-leading 42 homers.

Fast forward to last spring. Eyeing that elusive World Series appearance for the Nats, Harper got back to work. But, by any measure, the year was a major disappointment. He repeatedly denied he was hurt, but something was notably different about the young superstar.

His average fell nearly 90 points (down to .243) – and his slugging percentage tumbled to a dismal .441 clip. The season seemed to really go downhill following an early May series against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Joe Maddon essentially iced him out, walking him a total of 13 times in four games.

This spring, everyone who has seen Harper play has been impressed – and make no mistake, I’m not denying his potential. He has all the tools to be the best player in the league. My argument centers around one simple premise: he is yet to do that consistently.

Bryant has been epitome of consistency

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It’s not even that Bryant has been consistent. He’s actually gotten better in his first two years in the league.

He’s the best Cubs’ third baseman since Hall of Fame Ron Santo. In his two years, he’s already a 13.1 WAR player.

Last year, he led the entire National League in WAR. At his best, Harper is a sure-fire candidate to be right there on that list, as well.

But, realistically, how often is he at his peak level?

Bryant cut down on his strikeouts, played multiple positions and stepped up on baseball’s biggest stage in the World Series last season.

By all accounts, the reigning MVP believes he can be even better in 2017 – namely by hitting the ball to all fields instead of becoming a pure pull hitter. With even more support around him in the lineup in 2017, he could see better pitches more regularly than he did even last year.

Until Harper proves he can dominate regularly, count me out

Like I said, there’s no denying the potential of Bryce Harper.

But until he shows that he can play 150 games each year, producing at an elite level – I’m done buying into the hype. This guy has been the chosen one in Major League Baseball since Washington drafted him. Wwhile he’s had his stretches (namely his MVP campaign), there are more well-rounded talents in baseball.

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Until Kris Bryant takes a big step backwards and Harper shows he can stay on the field, I can’t vote against the Chicago Cubs’ slugger. He’s proven himself to be the best player in the league and you’d be a fool to suggest that will change in 2017.