He couldn’t make the Cubs’ roster out of spring training, and now he’s in the running to make the major league All-Star game?
Welcome to Kris Bryant’s world, where everything the kid slugger has done from the day he was called up from Class AAA Iowa has helped make the case the players’ union has threatened to bring over service time he lost by spending the first 12 days of the season in the minors.
The third baseman debuted as a cleanup hitter, played three positions before he’d spent eight days in the majors (including a start in center field), was among the league leaders in walks and led the team in RBIs within two weeks, and by Tuesday night electrified a national television audience by hitting the middle of Wrigley Field’s new video board in left field with his seventh homer in 17 days.
The encore to his gone-viral homer: Bryant ranks second at his position (behind St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter) in early National League All-Star voting results released Wednesday, one of six Cubs on the NL leaderboard.
As hometown rival Bryce Harper of Washington Nationals said this week: “I think he needed to be in the big leagues [from the start].”
Regardless of whether the union makes good on its threat to litigate Bryant’s service time issue – and whether it would have a prayer of succeeding – the Cubs might be the beneficiaries even beyond the additional year of club control they assured with their decision.
“I said it in spring training: I’m playing with a chip on my shoulder,” Bryant said. “But all that stuff’s in the past. I don’t think about that at all.
“I’m here to help the Cubs win as many games as possible. But that’s just how I play the game. I play hard. I play confidently. And I play it because it’s fun. That’s all I can really do.”
Kind of like the idea of being in the running for an All-Star spot as he played in Iowa in early April, not knowing when the Cubs would even call.
“It never crossed my mind,” Bryant, 23, said. “I don’t even know how [the voting] works. It’s just cool to see it. But my goals are never associated with those types of things.”
As recently as last year, a player with Bryant’s timeline wouldn’t even have been on the ballot. Because MLB switched to an all-electronic format for voting this year, the deadline for teams to submit their starters at each position was moved back from the first week of the season to April 29.
But teammate Anthony Rizzo – the 2014 All-Star who ranks second at his position, behind the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez – said he believes Bryant would still have been among the leaders as a write-in candidate.
“Look at what he’s doing,” said Rizzo, who raved about Bryant’s ability to adjust on the fly to big-league pitchers he’s never seen – like working back from an 0-2 count to get a 3-2 pitch from All-Star Jordan Zimmermann for Tuesday’s mammoth homer.
“That’s the type of player he is,” Rizzo said of the voting recognition. “And that’s the type of player he’s going to be. He’s going to be, hopefully, a perennial All-Star.”
In addition to Bryant and Rizzo, shortstop Starlin Castro ranked second and catcher Miguel Montero third at their positions. And Dexter Fowler (14) and Jorge Soler (15) made the 15-deep list of outfield leaders.
“Obviously, people are paying attention to us,” manager Joe Maddon said. “A lot of young guys that had a lot of advance publicity are living up to it. I’ve talked about expectations and how people like to run away from them, and I like to run toward them.
“So I’m really pleased and proud of our guys. It’s a validation of how well we’ve been playing and they’ve been playing individually.”