By The Baseball Beginnings Guy
June 30, 2010
The first thing you would notice about Kris Bryant in this look has nothing to do with his power, which is his money tool that offers upward mobility. What you find is a young player trying to be the most complete player he can be, which, in effect, means playing to improve himself rather than to prove himself.
If you were around for BP, you got one ball pulled down the left-field line by the right-handed hitting Bryant, a clean shot well over and past the 330 mark. Good enough for me. I felt he was looser and more coordinated than when I saw him in Summer 2009 and felt his athletic actions were much smoother than they were in the summer. I also felt his hands and wrists are stronger, which is reflected in the quick, easy looseness from the BP swings. That’s why the power is there even if you don’t see it in a game on a given day – most guys don’t have what I would call “easy” power. Some raw power is generated by max-effort swings with multiple moving parts. I don’t like complexity in swings. I like loose and easy explosiveness with physical projection. I like effortless weight shifts, loading, keeping hands back, and throwing the head and bat speed. Bryant has a very simple swing that probably should keep him out of prolonged slumps throughout his career. He trusts his hands and his front side.
Bryant spent much of his BP focusing on right field, which is something guys don’t always get to do in showcase land, where I last saw him. As much as a showcase is made to be the real world, it’s not. Complete hitters use the entire field. The trick is how to bring it into the game.
I saw Bryant hit doubles to left and right field in this game, hard contact both times. The other thing I noticed was how much more confidence he has in his speed. Ultra-aggressive, he wants the extra base each time, either on his own hits or as a trailer. He’s wearing the dirt.
I saw him pop a ball up, then when it was dropped behind short, speed up and take second with a slide. One-dimensional sluggers aren’t supposed to do that. As Bryant discussed in his Q&A before the draft, that’s his ambition.
I also saw him beat out an infield hit. I’m throwing out the running time because Bryant’s aggressiveness took a bite out of his leg when he skinned his knee sliding home in the first inning. He played all nine, but the blood showed through the pants leg, he did a fine job concealing his wincing, but you could tell it was burning. It’s a step forward that he ran well enough to beat out an infield hit, but I didn’t grade that run time because I knew he wasn’t 100 percent at that moment. So it’s not fair to keep a grade on a guy when if in a game situation he’s not full strength. You can grade the effort, though, and you gotta give it to him for going hard in pain.
Playing third defensively, I thought Bryant had very soft hands. He bends his knees on ground balls and follows the ball in. His arm will be enough for third, though he got all of one routine chance in this game (and had to wait until the ninth) and there was no infield to get a full grade on the arm.
His actions defensively were also smoother than last summer, though I still don’t think I got an entirely clean read. He charged a ball, fielded with the bare hand, and made a wide throw across the body – wincing all the way. You can see the soft hands and infielder instincts. It’s a tough ball with or without a bleeding knee. My instincts would be that he will probably make this kind of play with more routine frequency in the coming years. Third base defense, generally, doesn’t come along overnight unless you were Brooks Robinson. It’s almost always a gradual improvement for most guys who become elite defenders at the position. He’s no hack at this stage – soft hands, gets down, smooth arm action, range and first step should continue to improve, arm strength. Very good foundations for someone who wants to play third base in the big leagues.
Then there’s the issue of the draft. I once knew a player who signed a baseball to his father shortly before the draft, inscribing to him that the circus was almost over. The circus is the draft. I asked Bryant what he learned from the circus, where he was a 20th round pick by the Blue Jays, who got the label, much like Austin Wilson in Southern California, that his college commitment and 4.98 GPA made him a student more than a ballplayer.
“I learned that you have to believe in yourself and not worry about what anyone else says,” Bryant said. “If you read into all the critics and all the blogs, it just really affects you. You’re not going to perform the way you’re capable of, so I just stay out of it.”
I asked him how much he feels he has improved since last summer.
“Speed, glove, arm, bat, all of that. I think that I polished everything up this spring like I was trying to do,” he said. “Yesterday I went from first to third on a ball down the line and I thought I was flying. My arm feels a lot stronger. I don’t even have to throw as hard as I can, it just gets down to first on a line. I know I can play third because I believe in myself. Which is all that matters.”
UPDATE: As an added bonus, I got an additional look at Bryant two days later. With the knee dried up, he moved much better both out of the box and from left to right as he took ground balls before the game. With the Blue Jays scout that was stalking him two days before long gone, here’s what the Jays guy missed.
First at-bat, opposite field home run to right field. This was not a cheap shot — a clean shot over and past the 330 mark in right field. Bryant’s approach is obvious. He’s a big guy who pitchers don’t want to give into, so they go fastballs away. If you looked at Bryant’s long frame, it might not look like he has the physicality to do this. But the hands don’t lie. You could raise a barn off this guy’s front leg. He trusted his hands, threw the head, and drove the ball out.
It wasn’t the only hard hit ball to right field in this game for Bryant, but if you got the impression that he was shying away from pulling an inside pitch, he dispelled that in the ninth inning with a hard-hit double down the left field line. Again, not a scout in the house, except for me.
What I wanted was the running grade. 4.35 twice. With room to get better. Understand that most big leaguers with 30-home run power are 4.4 and 4.5 runners AT BEST.