Welp, that was a bit of a surprise. As had been predicted by a few folks (notably, Aisle424), the Cubs passed over one of the big college arms and selected Kris Bryant at #2 overall. I think we can be more confident in their candidness regarding their preference for position players over pitchers in general in the draft. Unfortunately, we can’t know now whether they preferred him to Stanford righty Mark Appel, since Appel went to the Astros with the first pick overall. Bruce Levine is reporting that the Cubs had Appel #1 on their board.
Who Is Kris Bryant?
Bryant is a junior third baseman from the University of San Diego best known for his prodigious power. He hit 54 homers in 625 at-bats in during his career at USD, including 31 this year. That’s a pretty impressive total in college these days, now that college bat specs have been pretty tightly regulated. Bryant hit more homers than over 200 D-I teams this year.
Bryant is very tall, and seems to have a very wide stance. In combination with his power, this had led to comparisons with Troy Glaus and Jason Werth. I know that some scouts worry about players with long arms and their ability to adjust to a variety of pitches, so that’s something to watch for. It will also be interesting to see whether he can stick at 3rd, or if he slides to left and sets up a Bryant, Almora, Soler outfield of the futre.
Baseball America’s Take
Bryant has shown huge raw power since his high school days in Las Vegas, and has blossomed into college baseball’s premier slugger. He posted a 1.081 OPS and nine homers as a freshmen, then a 1.154 OPS and 14 long balls as a sophomore, but he has taken his game to new heights as a junior, posting a 1.357 OPS and 25 home runs (seven more than any other Division I player) through 49 games. Opponents have pitched him very carefully, but he has remained patient, posting a 56-31 walk-strikeout mark. Bryant’s best tool is his plus-plus righthanded power, allowing him to launch towering shots over the light standard in left field or hit balls over the fence to the opposite field. He has adopted a wider base and a simpler approach at the plate this year, and he has impressed scouts with his ability to turn on inside fastballs or go the other way with sliders over the outer half. His plate discipline and ability to consistently barrel up a variety of pitches make him a safe bet to be at least an average hitter, and many scouts think he’ll be better than that. Bryant’s arm gives him another above-average tool. His athleticism gives him at least a chance to stick at third, although he’ll need plenty more repetitions to master the position. Some scouts project him as a prototypical right fielder. He has average speed and can be faster under way, and he has shown good instincts in right and center.
Skill: Present, Future
Hitting: 45, 45
Power: 70, 70
Plate Discipline: 50, 55
Running Speed: 40, 40
Fielding Range: 45, 45
Arm Strength: 55, 55
Bryant was a possible first-rounder out of high school — I had him ranked 29th in that draft class — but fell due to signability concerns and a middling performance in his senior year. He largely resolved the latter issue as a freshman for the Toreros, raking for three straight years now.
He sets up with a very wide base and has no stride, just a toe-tap for timing. It’s a quiet swing overall, with excellent hip rotation for power, but his bat speed is just average or a tick better and I worry about his contact rates when he’s consistently facing guys throwing 90-plus in pro ball. He can murder a good fastball but I’m not sure how he’ll react to better off-speed stuff in the pros.
Now a third baseman, Bryant may not stay in the infield at all — he’s most likely to end up in right field, but would probably be above-average or better there, and I think there’s a non-zero chance he stays at third, where he has plenty of arm and some athleticism but doesn’t have the quick reactions a third baseman needs.
He’s probably a low-average/high-power hitter down the road, with a ceiling of .260-.270 averages (and likely less) but 30-homer potential as well, and I expect him to go in the first five picks.
(Source: the baseball cube) Pretty solid numbers across the board, though you shouldn’t read too much into them. Guys with prodigious power are going to be pitched around, and that’s going to increase the greater the discrepancy between the player and the level. For reference, though, Brett Jackson had 481 college ABs, walked 65 times and struck out 117 times in the Pac 10 (218 AB, 29 BB, 61 SO, 8 HR as a junior). The BABIP is high for his career, but again, that’s to be expected for such a difference in talent between a player and that of his league. If it was low for his career, I would be worried.
When Can We Watch Him Play?
Unfortunately, USD was eliminated in the NCAA regionals, so… maybe two years. Anthony Rendon was considered the best college hitter in the 2011 draft, and has recently been called up to man 2nd for the Nationals (moving from third base, incidentally). I don’t think Bryant is as good a prospect as Rendon (though he has better power), but the timetables could look similar, especially considering that Rendon has dealt with bunches of injuries throughout his career.
Until then, we’ll have to settle for highlight videos.
Bryant on Bryant
On his pro position:
I think they want me at 3rd base, and that’s where I want to play. I’ve been doing it my whole life
On his breakout season
I changed my approach a little this year. The biggest thing I did coming into the year was just focus on the mistake pitch that pitchers are going to throw. I realized that I wasn’t going to get too much to hit…but I think I did a good job all year of just hitting that pitch that came over the white.