One of the best things that ever happened to the Cubs went down five years ago Wednesday. Months of hard work had led the club to a decision with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft, and it would prove to be the right one: Kris Bryant, third baseman, University of San Diego.
At the time, this was not necessarily the common thinking, as many expected the team to take pitcher Jon Gray, who went third to the Rockies.
Minor shocker - Cubs to take Bryant, not Gray— keithlaw (@keithlaw) June 6, 2013
But in the years since then-commissioner Bud Selig announced Bryant’s name, the decision stands out as one of the best, if not the best, in Cubs draft history. For a club that’s now loaded with productive hitters it drafted in the first round – Bryant, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Ian Happ – it can be easy to forget that the Cubs spent decades largely whiffing on picking position players at the top of the draft. (Josh Vitters, Ryan Harvey, Tyler Colvin, Luis Montanez … the list goes on.)
In honor of the fifth anniversary of drafting Bryant, arguably the best player on the team that finally broke the 108-year World Series drought, here’s a look at five reasons why he stands out in the Cubs’ draft history.
He’s second among Cubs 1st-round picks in team WAR
Let’s just start with the most ridiculous statistic of them all. The MLB Draft has been in place since 1965, and the Cubs have made 66 first-round picks (including supplemental picks) during that time. Already, just five seasons into his career, Bryant has contributed the second-most wins above replacement to the Cubs among those picks, according to Baseball-Reference. He’s first among position players.
The only Cubs first-round pick to provide more value to the club in the past 53 years, according to WAR, is 1995 first-round pick Kerry Wood. He recorded 25.5 WAR over 12 seasons with the team, including a dominant 6.1 WAR in his peak 2003 season.
Bryant, less than halfway through his fourth season, is already at 21.5 WAR. He’s going to lap Wood in the coming years and become the best first-round pick in Cubs history. It won’t be close, either, unless Baez, Schwarber or another recent pick can start catching up ground quickly.
It’s worth noting that before Bryant, the three best position players drafted by the Cubs in the first round – Joe Carter (1981), Rafael Palmeiro (1985) and Josh Donaldson (2007) – all reached success elsewhere.
He posted the best rookie season in Cubs history
Bryant burst onto the scene as an immediate impact player with a .275/.369/.488 batting line and 26 home runs in his debut season. It’s the best season by any rookie in Cubs history, and his only close competitors come from a century ago.
Kris Bryant (2015): 6.1 WAR
Jimmy Cooney (1890): 5.3 WAR
Charlie Hollocher (1918): 5.0 WAR
Addison Russell (2015): 3.5 WAR
Joe Tinker (1902): 3.5 WAR
Among Cubs rookies, Bryant’s 2015 season ranks first all-time in doubles, home runs, RBI, hits by pitch, slugging percentage and OPS. He also set a franchise record with a league-leading 199 strikeouts, which is 25 more than Sammy Sosa ever recorded in a season.
He’s one of six players to win ROTY and MVP in his first two seasons
Over 20 players have won both awards in their careers, but only six have won Rookie of the Year and MVP in their first two seasons. Bryant is part of that venerable group after his 2015 ROTY and 2016 MVP trophies.
Red Sox outfielder Fred Lynn (1975)
Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. (1982-83)
Mariners outfielder Ichiro (2001)
Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard (2005-06)
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (2007-08)
Best player ever from Nevada? It’s Bryant or Bryce
There must have been something in the water in Nevada in the early 90s. A state that was never previously known for churning out MLB superstars provided the game two of its most talented, charismatic players in the same year.
Harper got an early start to his MLB career after being drafted first overall out of high school in 2010, but Bryant may give him a run for the title of “best MLB player ever born in Nevada” by the time all is said and done. Through 827 games, Harper has recorded 27.2 WAR, or roughly 5.3 WAR per 162 games. Bryant, meanwhile, has averaged 6.9 WAR per 162 games.
So while Harper’s longer career gives him the early lead, and his 2015 MVP season shows the kind of heights he can reach at his best, Bryant’s consistency could win out eventually.
Before these two, Rangers first baseman Joey Gallo and Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham, the best player to ever come out of Nevada was … Marty Cordova.
He won a dang World Series
What else needs to be said?