The brief trial of Kris Bryant
By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com
This offseason Josh Jackson is looking at some of the top prospects who prepared for professional ball by spending time in a collegiate wood bat league, considering how those summers got them ready for the Draft and future success in the Minors.
Kris Bryant, who recently talked with our Ashley Marshall, is well acquainted with success on the baseball field. In high school, he was good enough to be recruited by top-tier baseball programs such as USC, Vanderbilt, Stanford and Arizona State, and he ultimately took a scholarship to the University of San Diego. He was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 18th round that year and would have been picked higher had his desire to college not been common knowledge.
His freshman year, he led the Toreros in runs scored (57) while batting .365. His sophomore year, he hit one point better and clubbed 14 homers and knocked in 57 runs. His spectacular junior season in 2013 made him the winner of the Dick Howser and Golden Spikes Awards, as well as the Baseball America College Player of the Year.
Turning pro didn’t slow him down one wink. After the Cubs took him with the second overall pick in this year’s Draft, Bryant played his way from Rookie ball to the Class A Advanced Florida State League, where he helped Daytona to a circuit title. After that, he headed to the Arizona Fall League, where he homered six times and drove in 17 runs while batting .364 over 20 games to be named the AFL MVP.
But believe it or not, the 21-year-old did meet with failure — at least comparatively speaking — at one stop along the way. After his freshman year at USD, Bryant headed East and put on a Chatham Anglers uniform in the wood bat Cape Cod League.
Bryant went hitless in 12 of his 37 games on the Cape, and he had multiple hits –- never more than two -– in only five of them. Two stretches were particularly rough. From June 29-July 3, the Nevada native was 0-for-13 with nine strikeouts. The good news was, when he broke out of that slump on the day after Independence Day, he also ended a string of 17 straight games (all the ones he’d played to that point) in which he’d whiffed in at least one at-bat. The bad news was, by the middle of the month, he slid down another hole. From July 14-17, he went 0-for-12 with seven strikeouts.
There were bright spots. In a game shortly after his mid-July slump, he came through with a huge hit for the Anglers.
He finished the circuit with a .233 average and fanned 51 times in 130 at-bats.
But even without counting the grand slam on July 21, the league wasn’t a total bust for Bryant. He told ESPN.com that his experiences in 2011 showed the guy who’s been successful in every other baseball situation he’s faced how to cope with failure.
“Summer ball my freshman year I went to the Cape and didn’t do well at all,” he said. “That was good for me to go through. I know I’m going to go through struggles, and I’ll think back to that time at the Cape Cod League.”
Bryant spent the next summer (2012) playing for Team USA. He hit .271 with three homers, three doubles, a triple and 10 RBIs in 17 games.