Chicago Cubs Kris Bryant has no plans to stay complacent
On pure baseball ability and performance, there's little doubt that Kris Bryant won a roster spot on the Cubs coming out of spring training last year.
But little in professional baseball is "pure," and the Cubs did what they had to do in making a business decision to keep Bryant in the minor leagues until his April 17 call-up.
We'll set aside for now the future legal ramifications of the Cubs getting a full "free" extra year of service time out of Bryant (as was their right under the current rules) and Bryant's people filing a grievance about it.
The proof was in Bryant's performance, a performance that earned him the National League's Rookie of the Year Award in a unanimous vote. Bryant also made the all-star team and was 11th in MVP voting.
Perhaps to keep himself sharp, Bryant says he's taking the same mental approach to spring training that he took last year.
"I want to take that mindset of 'I haven't made the team' because I don't want to be complacent," he said in the early days of spring training at Mesa, Arizona. "I've never been that type of player. I want to be the best player I can be. I think that if you take that (complacent) attitude, you're not really working as hard as you can. I'm going to come out here with the mindset that I haven't made the team and try to go out there and perform in spring training, and we'll see where we're at."
Bryant, the Cubs' first-round draft choice (second overall) in 2013, was nothing less than a sensation among Cubs fans last year from the moment he came up.
Despite being held back until opening-day third baseman Mike Olt got hurt, Bryant played in 151 games and put up a line of .275/.369/.488 with 26 home runs and 99 RBI. Included among his extra-base hits were 31 doubles and 5 triples.
Bryant walked 77 times, but the only troublesome sign were his 199 strikeouts, accounting for a strikeout rate of 30.6.
Young hitters have been known to improve on such things, and the 6-foot-5 Bryant has been working to flatten out his swing.
"I don't know if it's really a mechanical change," he said. "I just think it's a different thought process, of just trying to be more flat. I'm a tall guy. Jason (Heyward) is a tall guy. We have steep swings. It's important for us to just stay flat. That's really what I've been focusing on … just so that you can get to the pitches you're supposed to hit and hit those pitches hard.
"Last year I fouled off a lot of pitches that I wanted to hit, and sometimes that's frustrating. It's exciting when you see an area where you want to improve and you see some results. That's always positive."
The question of whether Bryant will remain at third base seems to have died down for now, and he looked more comfortable at the position as last season wore on.
As far as this season, goes, Bryant was among many early arriving position players to Mesa.
"I'm just really looking at this year as a continuation of last year with a 3 and a half month break," he said. "I'm not really looking at it like a second year or anything. It's just a continuation of your career and your progression. Hopefully you get better in certain areas. There are always going to be areas where you get worse at, areas you get better at. That's the beauty of this game. It's the beauty of the off-season, getting better at areas you hope to be better at. I think heading into spring, I have a really good mindset, so I'm really excited."
• Fourth in a series analyzing each position on the roster.
Top NL third basemenBruce Miles ranks the top National League third basemen:
1. Nolan Arenado, Rockies
2. Kris Bryant, CUBS
3. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals