SAN FRANCISCO – Dexter Fowler is off to an All-Star-like start. Ben Zobrist has made a sudden impact since signing as a free agent. Anthony Rizzo is the guy the lineup is built around.
But the Cubs’ everyday MVP so far is arguably Kris Bryant.
The on-base and power production – including home runs Friday and Saturday – are only a small part of why. The bigger reason is what last year’s National League Rookie of the Year has done as the most versatile third baseman in the majors at a time the Cubs have needed his versatility the most to help get off to the franchise’s best start in more than a century.
“It’s really phenomenal to have somebody that young and that versatile,” Maddon said. “When I first met him I didn’t realize all of that. The thing that’s really interesting about him is last year we talked to him about playing the outfield, and he didn’t even blanch.”
“He’s kind of like [Ben] Zobrist. Zo was exactly the same way: never really hesitated at all,” Maddon said. “And he’s what, 24?”
Bryant has started at both corner infield spots and both corner outfield spots this year, and last year started a game in center field – in his seventh game in the big-leagues.
“He’s played them all well,” Maddon said. “I think he could play shortstop. I mean, this guy’s really that good of an athlete. … I have no hesitation putting him anywhere.”
That’s been a major factor of covering for injury losses of Kyle Schwarber since April 7, more recently Matt Szczur for two weeks and on Friday night in the first inning, Gold Glove right fielder Jason Heyward.
With Javy Baez’s exceptional infield skills getting increased play at third in the last month or so during the Cubs’ short-handed outfield stretches, Bryant’s skill in the outfield – and willingness to move around – has made an impact for the first-place Cubs.
“I’ve kind of been doing that so far, so I’m really just embracing it,” said Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft and an All-Star third baseman last year. “Wherever they need me I’m going to give my all.
“It’s not really something crazy to me,” he said. “Obviously, [Friday] was a little strange.”
When Heyward was injured on the first play in the bottom of the first Friday, Bryant was sent from third base to right field. The next ball put into play was blooped his way and he made a tough, charging catch look easier than it was.
“Guys like him make your team longer,” Maddon said. “They permit you to do different things that you normally couldn’t do game in progress, just trying to strengthen your defense in different areas. Some guys maybe are just suited to one position, and that’s where you want to play them, so he can move somewhere else.”
The easiest and most common comparison for anyone Maddon decides to move around the field defensively is Zobrist, the shortstop-by-trade who was forced early in his career to become good at multiple positions just to create enough big-league value to play.
“I did it out of necessity,” Zobrist said. “He’s already a good player and he’s going to have a spot no matter what. It’s kind of a mindset. It’s special for him to be able to do that without any rebuttal towards Joe. For him, he’s just doing what’s best for the team.”
Rookie of the Year. All-Star. Core franchise player. And third baseman, dammit.
“He could say that, but he chooses not to because that’s the kind of guy he is,” Zobrist said. “That’s the kind of teammate and the kind of person he is.”
Bryant: “I’m OK with it.”