League MVP says playing with other top prospects, adjusting to pitchers prepared him
MESA, Ariz. -- Kris Bryant's whirlwind first season as a professional baseball player included playing in the Arizona Fall League, and the Cubs prospect says the experience was something he'll never forget.
Bryant was the Cubs' first-round pick and the second player taken overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. The winner of the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top college baseball player, he leap-frogged from Rookie League to short-season Class A Boise to Class A Advanced Daytona, where he finished with a Florida State League championship.
The third baseman was then assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL with Cubs prospects Jorge Soler, Albert Almora, Armando Rivero, Wes Darvill, Matt Loosen, Dallas Beeler and Lendy Castillo.
Bryant showed he was up for the challenge, going 3-for-6 in his first game on Oct. 8, with a double and two RBIs. And he wasn't finished.
The next day, the Solar Sox routed Glendale, 13-3, collecting 16 hits. Bryant went 2-for-3 with three RBIs and a first-inning home run, and Almora went 4-for-5 with three RBIs and led off the game with a homer. Soler went 1-for-5 with three RBIs, and Darvill came off the bench, replacing Bryant, and delivered a home run as well.
"That was fun," Bryant said. "All the guys [on the team] were making jokes -- 'Oh, we don't even need to be here, it's just the Cubs' players. They're carrying us.' I think me and Albert and Jorge and Wes will remember that one."
Bryant made the most of the 20 games he played, and he was named Most Valuable Player at the end of the 2013 AFL season. He batted .364 with six home runs, eight doubles, one triple and 17 RBIs, posting a .727 slugging percentage.
"It was a nice little cherry on the top," Bryant said of the MVP award. "Going into the league, I wasn't trying to win that -- it was getting my feet wet and trying to figure out how these older guys who are closer to the big leagues are trying to get me out.
"I felt I got so much better there in 20 games," he said. "It was a great experience for me, and it's definitely going to help me here in Spring Training."
Bryant's success earned him an invitation to the Cubs' big league camp along with Almora, Soler and Rivero.
By playing at so many different levels, Bryant, who turned 22 on Jan. 4, had to adjust, and he learned quickly what he needed to do to progress up the developmental ladder.
"The biggest difference in the [AFL] was that some of the guys had played in the big leagues," the Las Vegas native said. "You could definitely see it from Rookie ball all the way up to the fall league in terms of [pitchers'] command -- they could throw their pitches where they wanted to [in the AFL]. In Rookie ball, guys are working on throwing more strikes. You could definitely see the difference."
Besides his Chicago teammates, Bryant was impressed by some of the talent from others teams. He played next to then 19-year-old shortstop Addison Russell, who is the Athletics' No. 1 prospect.
"He's really young -- he was like Albert's age," Bryant said of Russell. "He and Albert were very comparable because they're so mature for their age. They were competing with good competition and both did well."
Bryant has moved on. He took some time off after the AFL, then he participated in the Cubs' rookie development camp in January in Chicago. Was there one thing Bryant learned from the AFL?
"The biggest thing that will carry over is confidence and knowing that I can go out there and compete with the best of the best and do well," Bryant said. "That's the biggest thing I took from the league. I'm coming up here in Spring Training pretty confident."