Kris Bryant has big-boy stats. That’s the first thing that stands out about him. A .275 average, 26 home runs and 99 runs batted in. This isn’t someone who won the National League Rookie of the Year award with numbers that said, “You know, with some luck and a lot of work, this guy might turn out to be a player someday.’’
Once in awhile, a rookie hits .270 with 60 RBI in 100 games and wins the thing. Not often, but sometimes. On Monday, voters gave the award to a player who came to the big leagues fully formed, a star not in the making but already made. Built for the long run, with no assembly required.
In an announcement that surprised exactly no one, Bryant beat out Giants third baseman Matt Duffy and Pirates third baseman/shortstop Jung Ho Kang. Both are good players, just not Bryant good. He received all 30 first-place votes.
“A dream season’’ is what he called it Monday.
Despite Bryant’s man’s-man totals in his first season in the majors, he’s still a 23-year-old kid. That’s the other thing that stands out about him: His body still has room to grow. He looks like someone who has worked on his swing for a lifetime and only dabbled in upper-body workouts. A baseball Dirk Nowitzki.
That will change, and so will his physique, probably for the better. And as time goes on, you figure his league-leading strikeout total will change for the better too. But give him credit: 199 whiffs is prodigious. Nothing shy about this guy.
Bryant doesn’t do small. Hard to forget his walk-off home run against the Rockies on July 27. The Cubs were in danger of losing their fourth straight game and dropping to just four games over .500. You can’t point to one moment changing a baseball season, but all I know is that the Cubs went 46-19 after that swing of the bat. Maybe I am pointing.
Or how about his walk-off homer against Cleveland on Aug. 24? That one had reliever Pedro Strop giving Bryant a high-stepping escort down the third-base line toward a mob of teammates waiting at home plate. The image showed up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. No one died or was injured.
Bryant had some of his best performances in the second half of the season, which is impressive for someone who played just one full season in the minors. He slumped in July, but hit .323 and had 12 home runs the rest of the way. Compare that with Dodgers rookie Joc Pederson, who hit 20 home runs through June and only six afterward.
“I made a little adjustment just going back to a drill that I did in college to help me stay more on plane with the ball, and it really paid off for me,” Bryant said. “But I think it’s just the natural way of this game, the peaks and the valleys. You’ve just kind of got to go with it and realize that it’s part of the game.”
Cubs fans have been looking forward to awards season for weeks. Bryant for N.L. Rookie of the Year, Joe Maddon for N.L. Manager of the Year and Jake Arrieta for N.L. Cy Young. A triple crown of laurels pointing back to a great season but also pointing ahead to what looks like a rosy tomorrow.
“The future is so bright for this team,’’ Bryant said.
As anyone with a Theo Epstein scrapbook knows, 2015 was more than Bryant, Arrieta and Maddon. There was Kyle Schwarber, who managed to become a household name in Chicago in a matter of four months. Addison Russell was excellent at shortstop and hinted at better things ahead with a bat in his hand. Jorge Soler had his moments, though don’t be surprised if the Cubs trade him for pitching help this offseason.
Bryant had 17 errors at third base in 2015, but he improved as the season went on. Will he be the Cubs’ starting third baseman for the next 10 years? With the way he hits, does it matter? Schwarber’s situation feels a bit more tenuous. He struggled in a big way in the outfield in the playoffs, but is the sample size too small? Probably.
That’s a discussion for another time. This was Bryant’s day.
A great year for the kid and the team. Imagine what his numbers would have been had the Cubs brought him up for the first 12 days of the season. Kidding. Just kidding.