Alfonso Soriano had his fly-ball hop. Kris Bryant has his three-step crow hop on throws to first.
For now, at least.
Soriano, a converted infielder who committed two errors on the hop in his first two years with the Cubs, never quite got past the quirky habit, despite occasional vows to stop doing it and one temporary, late-career stretch during which he actually did.
Bryant, the slugging rookie third baseman whose fielding often gets overshadowed by the other considerable parts of his game, says he strives to be a complete player.
That’s going to eventually have to include getting rid of the ball quicker and smoother on routine plays if he plans to stay at third base.
Manager Joe Maddon said as much before Wednesday’s game, even as he lauded Bryant’s performance at third, which team officials say has exceeded their expectations.
“When he goes to throw the baseball, I think you’re going to see him get even cleaner with that,” Maddon said, “meaning he still wants to pat the ball a little bit in his glove, which causes an extra step.”
Or three or four.
“I like when an infielder does not take the ball back into his glove. A lot of them do,” Maddon said. “I like it cleanly picked up, and then you just pick the ball lup and you throw it with your right footwork.”
It’s something Bryant works on every day before games.
And so far it hasn’t cost the Cubs. He has committed four errors, but none on throws. One evaluator during Bryant’s first week in the big leagues referred to his “floppy” arm on routine plays, but his throws have generally been strong and accurate.
“His feet are getting better, his stroke’s getting better, his understanding of the whole thing’s getting better,” Maddon said. “It’s a one-handed game, and he’s catching the ball one-handed, which I like. I’m constantly seeing improvement with the whole thing.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Maddon added. “He’s quick. He’s got good range. He’s long. He can lean out there and just pick up some stuff other guys can’t get to.
“As he gets more comfortable over there, you’re going to see him do some really good things at third base.”
Meanwhile, Bryant has continued to show exceptional performance levels in every other aspect of his game.
Despite being sentenced to the minors for the Cubs’ first eight games, he entered Wednesday with a team-leading 20 walks, was one off the team lead in RBIs (19) and had an .877 OPS just 24 games into his big-league career.
In fact, in Wednesday’s fourth inning, he beat out an infield single for the third time in six games – second in as many nights — this one not quite as routine as the other two, with third-baseman Daniel Murphy forced to reach to his backhand for the ball.
“He’s a baseball player, man,” Maddon said. “That’s what you want. A guy that plays the whole game, understands the concepts of offense and defense, and offense includes base running.”