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Chicago Cubs

MLB 25 at 25: No. 2 Kris Bryant

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 04: Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant (17) during the Chicago Cubs World Series victory rally on November 4, 2016, at Grant Park in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

Over the next several weeks, FanRag Sports will be counting down the Top 25 MLB Players 25 years old or younger (as of Opening Day) for the 2017 season. These rankings reflect composite scores by our staff of writers.

Checking in at No. 2: Chicago Cubs third baseman and reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant (295 points)

*****

Kris Bryant is pretty good, I guess.

Look, pretty much everything that could be said about the Chicago Cubs’ 25-year-old third baseman/left fielder/men’s style guru has been said already. What do you want from me? I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. I’ve written, extensively, on the topic of Bryant before and others have exhausted the discussion as well.

We get it! Enough already. Let’s pump the brakes on Bryant, okay?

Here are the facts. The Cubs drafted University of San Diego slugger Kristopher Lee Bryant number two overall in the 2013 amateur draft, going against the grain in taking yet another hitting prospect instead of the best available pitcher, Jon Gray. The Cubs, at the time, were loaded with hitters. At the big league level, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and such luminaries as Junior Lake, Logan Watkins, and Dave Sappelt were all in the early portions of their careers. In the minors, the Cubs had Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora Jr., Dan Vogelbach, Brett Jackson, and Jeimer Candelario.

At that moment in time, the only starting pitcher with a reasonably promising future under the age of 28 was Travis Wood. So, excuse Cubs fans for wondering why Theo Epstein and company went with another bat when pitching was so obviously necessary.

But the fans turned quickly after Bryant began showing his stuff in the minors. In 146 professional plate appearances ranging from Rookie-ball to High-A in 2013, Bryant hit .336/.390/.688 with 14 doubles, nine home runs, and two triples. In 2014, his first full season as a pro, Bryant clubbed 43 homers in 138 games between Double-A and Triple-A. And in 2015, Bryant hit three round-trippers in seven Triple-A games before coming up to Chicago, hitting 26 more bombs, and winning the NL Rookie of the Year.

11 August 2016: Chicago Cubs Third base Kris Bryant (17) [10177] at bat during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

But Bryant struggled in the playoffs, as if his first time ever starting a season in March and continuing to play beyond the first week of September was some sort of excuse. Bryant looked tired against the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets in October of 2015, and his numbers reflected it. In nine playoff games, Bryant went 6-for-34 with a double, a triple, and two home runs.

But then came the 2016 season, where he took the world by storm. Bryant simply wasn’t happy with collecting the Rookie of the Year, Minor League Player of the Year, and College Player of the Year awards in the three previous years—superstars, always so greedy and wanting more. From day one, Bryant was clearly hunting for an MVP award.

Shortly after a June game in which Bryant went 5-for-5 with two doubles and three home runs—the very first time that has been accomplished in a major league game, and thus the creation of “The Full House”—CBS writer Tony Massarotti went to the internet to calm the fans down on the Cubs’ blossoming star.

And then there is this: how has Bryant fared against the best pitchers in the National League? Against Clayton Kershaw, he’s 1-for-5 with four strikeouts. Against Madison Bumgarner, he’s 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. Against Max Scherzer, he’s 0-for-8 with six strikeouts. Adam Wainwright owns him (0-for-7). So does Zack Greinke (1-for-5, two strikeouts). If we want to venture into the American League, Bryant is 0-for-6 with six strikeouts against Chris Sale.

Add it all up, and here’s what you get: 2-for-36 with 20 strikeouts. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d say that leaves a lot of room for growth.

Unfortunately, all of that is true. We can’t plug our ears and shout “fake news!” with the hope that the numbers will become alternative facts. But Bryant, who was at that point just shy of 1,000 career plate appearances in the big leagues, was not done. Through the end of the season, he hit .303/.397/.548 with 18 home runs in 80 games, including homers off of Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom. Bryant even got one against Sale in the All-Star game.

And while Bryant didn’t face Zack Greinke or Max Scherzer again in the regular season, he did get to see Wainwright (2-for-2), Sale (1-for-2), Bumgarner (3-for-5), and Kershaw (2-for-6). Add it all up, and here’s what you get: 8-for-15, or a .533 batting average.

Even though his line of .292/.385/.554, 39 home runs, and 7.7 WAR were good enough to earn him that National League MVP award, everyone knew there was one place Bryant needed to still prove himself: the postseason. Against the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS, Bryant was 6-for-16 (.375) with two doubles and a home run—including 3-for-5 with two doubles and a walk against Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.

In the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bryant was 7-for-23 (.305) with three doubles, going 3-for-9 with three singles and an RBI against Kershaw and Rich Hill. And, of course, in the World Series, Bryant was 7-for-26 (.269) with a 4-for-5 effort in Game 5 and two home runs over the final three games.

So, add “World Series champion” to the list of accolades that Bryant has collected in his young career. The fact that he’s only 25 makes you really examine exactly what you’ve been doing with your life, doesn’t it? Bryant has proven himself to be in elite company among not only the best in the game, but the best to ever play. He’s accumulated 13.6 WAR over his first two seasons in the big leagues, which slightly edges out Frank Robinson (13.4) for number one in Major League Baseball history. He’s soft-spoken, carries a big stick, and has a smile and twinkling blue eyes that make him as marketable a star as the league has seen in decades.

Yeah, Kris Bryant is pretty good, I guess.

*****

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