Maddon-Bryant relationship continues to grow

Cubs manager says 'sky's the limit' for NL Rookie of Year

February 28th, 2016

MESA, Ariz. -- Last spring, Joe Maddon told Kris Bryant how good he could be, and the Cubs' third baseman won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. This spring, when they met for their annual pre-Spring Training talk, the discussion was more about their offseason adventures and Maddon's recreational vehicle.

Their relationship has grown, and that's vital to Bryant's -- and any young player's -- development.

Cubs' Spring Training info

When Bryant arrived in spring camp in 2015, there was an overload of hype surrounding the Minor League Player of the Year.

"I told him how good I thought he was going to be and what's ahead for him and the different things to work on," Maddon said of their chat one year ago.

Little did Maddon know how good. Bryant batted .275 with 26 home runs, 31 doubles, 99 RBIs, and won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. The only disappointing element was that Bryant didn't break with the Cubs despite leading the Major Leagues in spring home runs.

"I was confident he would respond well," Maddon said about their talks last year. "We had some good conversations, me and him, in the office -- very candid, frank, open, all of the above. I got a good feel from him. He was very self-confident. He was disappointed he was not starting with us but had the team goals in mind.

"He was straight up with me and looked me right in the eye balls [saying he belonged in big leagues] and I don't blame him," Maddon said. "When he got up here, he showed it was true."

He was 23, sitting down with a new manager, yet Bryant didn't mince words one year ago.

"I truly believed it," Bryant said Saturday about being ready for the big leagues. "I think it's important to have belief in yourself. If you don't believe you belong, you shouldn't be playing the game. There's so much to this game that will get you down. If I'm in here with the intent that you belong and you can compete with everybody, it only helps you and I think that really helped me last spring."

Bryant did appreciate Maddon's honesty last year.

"It's kind of weird when you come into big league camp and it's your first manager," Bryant said of their talks. "I knew what type of manager Joe Maddon was just seeing him and he was really cool. They were weird conversations at first, but establishing that honesty and being real with one another only helped us throughout the year. He recognized when I wasn't going well and he pulled me into his office last year. Those Spring Training conversations really helped propel our relationship."

So, when they met this year in Maddon's office, what was the topic?

"It was more talking about what happened in the offseason and what I did and he was telling me stories about his RV and it breaking down," said Bryant, laughing. "We're opening up with one another, which is good. This year, the conversations were a little different."

So, no focus on what he needs to do?

"Not much," Bryant said. "That's Joe for you. He has some crazy adventures. I told him what I worked on and stuff and I said the same things I always say, which is that I'm trying to get better in all areas and there's still a lot of room for improvement. I'm excited for that."

Maddon, who also picked up a postseason award, being named NL Manager of the Year after guiding the Cubs to a 97-win season, did talk to Bryant about improving his footwork at third, trying to reduce the number of strikeouts and being more efficient with runners on third and two outs. Bryant heard that, but he's already been working on those aspects of his game.

"The sky's the limit for him," Maddon said.