A lot has happened in three years. Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant went from being a top minor league prospect to Major League Baseball (MLB) star player. Despite the successful World Series in 2016, Bryant has a lot to be frustrated about in 2017.
The Cubs have not consistently played well in the first 99 games. Still, their 52-47 record after Tuesday places the team within reach of another National League Central Division title or Wild Card playoff spot.
Kris Bryant is playing through a couple of injuries that set him back on a path to become a more complete hitter. He went from being an All-Star in 2016 to missing the cut this year. His second strikeout Tuesday against the White Sox was particularly frustrating, as Cubs Den writer Mike Banghart described:
Kris Bryant fouled a 2-1 pitch off of himself hard. He spent a few moments on the ground, but stayed in the game. It wouldn't last for long as Rodon hit Navarez's mitt several inches inside. The ump ran Bryant up for his third strike out, and Bryant was not happy about it. He argued and was tossed by the home plate umpire. That brought out Maddon, but he managed to stay in the game.
The sequence took me back to July of 2014 -- the first time I saw Bryant play for the Iowa Cubs during a game in Omaha. As I wrote about here the next morning, Bryant was hitting .351 when he was last ejected for arguing a called strike. Javy Baez also was in the lineup that night at shortstop and struggling to hit for average.
This year, Bryant's batting average has fallen to .278 and off from his .292 in the 2016 campaign. Rookie, MVP and World Series honors are all in the rearview mirror. He has yet to become a .300 MLB hitter, even though he hit for average at every earlier level.
Bryant showed his frustration this week, and I think this is a very good sign. As was the case in 2014, he is about to refocus. He has spent a lot of time improving defense, and that was important during the tricky last out in Game 7 of the World Series. Now, he faces a tougher challenge: improve situational hitting, drive in runs when not hitting homeruns, and lead the Cubs to the historic repeat.
On that warm July night in Omaha, Kris Bryant first showed a small crowd that he cares enough to want to become a better player. This week, he showed the world. Bryant has the power to provide the missing ingredient for the 2017 team: leadership.