Cubs prospect Bryant homers in Triple-A debut
First-round pick in 2013 Draft on fast rise through Minor League system
DES MOINES, Iowa -- Kris Bryant is making it look easy.
In his first start with Triple-A Iowa, Bryant hit an opposite-field two-run homer in the seventh inning of a 6-2 win over El Paso on Thursday night.
"I went up there today figuring I was due -- I haven't hit one in a while," Bryant said. "The home runs I've been hitting were in the Home Run Derby [in the Southern League All-Star Game]."
Just think: A year ago, Bryant was hitting in cages with his dad in Las Vegas and had yet to sign with the Cubs, who made the third baseman their first pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft.
Bryant has been on a fast-paced trip through the Cubs' Minor League system. He did what the Cubs wanted at Double-A Tennessee, and was leading the Southern League in the Triple Crown categories at the time of his promotion, batting .355 with 22 home runs and 58 RBIs in 68 games.
On Thursday, Bryant batted fifth and went 1-for-4. He was matched up on the left side of the infield with Javier Baez, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2011 and top prospect, who has been with Iowa all season. Baez hit third and went 1-for-3.
The Cubs are hoping the two of them will be paired up on the left side of the infield for a long time.
Iowa manager Marty Pevey called Bryant "humble" and "coachable." Those are great traits. Bryant dominated at Double-A, but he admitted it took a little time to get in a groove.
"The beginning of the season was a little adjustment period," said Bryant, who batted .281 in April. "In terms of numbers, they weren't where I wanted to be. I figured it out. A lot of the credit goes to my coaches. They helped me form an approach at the plate and try to figure out how they're trying to get me out. I just hit the ground running. It's been a flash since then. It was a really fun experience."
Bryant not only talked to Smokies hitting coach Desi Wilson but also pitching coach Storm Davis and several of the players. Catcher Rafael Lopez, now with Iowa after beginning the season with Tennessee, would compare notes with Bryant, and not just from a hitter's perspective but how he has pitchers approach hitters.
"It's kind of like a soup with all these ingredients, and it was the best soup ever," Bryant said.
Bryant's numbers made it look as if Double-A was too easy. Did he feel challenged?
"I did," Bryant said. "Baseball's so hard, it's such a challenging game. You're still failing seven out of 10 times. If you wrap your head around that, it brings you down and you realize this is a hard game. There are going to be games when you're not feeling well and you're going to strike out four times -- five times in my case in my first game [with Boise]. It's all about bouncing back."
Cubs fans are eager to see the so-called core four of Bryant, Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler at Wrigley Field sooner rather than later.
"I don't pay any attention to it," Bryant said of the hype on the prospects, "because I know there are other players in the organization who are very deserving of the attention. All the pitchers at Double-A, the starters, they have a really bright future. There are other guys -- [Dan] Vogelbach, he goes under the radar, and you've got guys like Rafael Lopez, who's one of the best catchers I've ever played with."
Despite the stellar stats, which were dazzling in his final year at the University of San Diego when he belted 31 home runs and won the Golden Spikes Award as top collegiate player in the country, you won't hear Bryant say he has all the answers.
"I will never know it all in this game," Bryant said. "Once you think like that, this game will bring you back to reality. I think there's always something you can learn, and that's how I go about every day."
Bryant's father, Mike, is making the most of his son's Minor League days. The Bryants went with Kris to the Southern League All-Star Game, where he won the Home Run Derby. While Kris flew from Tennessee to Chicago to Des Moines, his parents drove his car 14 hours to get to Des Moines in time for Thursday's Iowa debut.
Mike was sitting behind home plate, wearing the watch Kris won in the Derby. It was a gift from his son.
The two are taking advantage of this time. On Father's Day, Kris and his dad played catch on the field before Tennessee's game.
"You can't get that moment back -- that was really cool," Kris said.
Cubs director of player development Jaron Madison called Bryant with the news that he was being promoted.
"He asked me where I was, and I told him I was driving home [from the All-Star Game], and he said, 'All right, when you get home, start packing,'" Bryant said.
Because he played with all of the players on the Iowa roster in Spring Training, Bryant is familiar with his teammates.
"Hopefully, it'll be a pretty easy transition," he said.
Des Moines is only a one-hour flight from Chicago. Triple-A is the last step before the big leagues. Does Bryant feel that much closer?
"I wasn't really good in geography in school," he said, laughing. "I was more of a math and science guy -- I didn't know how far it is [from Chicago to Des Moines]. It is exciting. My family is here. I'm having the time of my life. Hopefully I can help the Iowa Cubs as much as I helped the Tennessee Smokies."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.