Defensively proficient Bryant set to man LF full-time

March 20th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Kris Bryant may have found a home in more ways than the one his seven-year, $182 million contract with the Rockies represents.

Since 2018, Bryant has been the definition of the modern, multi-positional player. Only the '19 season, when he played 115 games at third base for the Cubs, did he reach triple figures at any one spot. Even then, his outfield appearances (44) were significant, and he had some guest spots (three) at first base.

Bryant and manager Bud Black have settled on left field being his regular spot. There will be some designated hitter days to lighten Bryant’s running load, but if all goes well, no one will need a scorecard to know where he will play defense.

“I’ve never shied away from moving around, because I feel like I can still do that,” Bryant said. “But I feel I perform best when I am focused on one position and not having to worry about bunt defense at different positions, then go in the outfield and [have to] communicate with your teammates. I can really kind of hone in on just one spot, but I really don’t mind.”

Positional versatility became a buzzword in recent years, with even All-Stars like Bryant not identifying with one spot.

While such strategy opens options for the batting order, it also can divide a player’s pregame preparation to the point where he is less effective at each spot. Even the best players could be more likely to make a mistake or simply not make the difficult play at a key time. Even the Dodgers, amoebalike in recent years, seem to be going old school with the signing of first baseman Freddie Freeman and the anchoring of Trea Turner to shortstop and Max Muncy to second base.

With every out a premium at hitter-friendly Coors Field, Black would rather not shuffle his key players around the diamond. With Ryan McMahon having claimed third base and Charlie Blackmon most likely playing right field more often than serving as the DH, there is less need to move Bryant than in recent years with the Cubs or during his stretch run and postseason with the Giants last year.

“There are guys who are very capable of moving around the diamond, but I think it’s better if they stay in one spot,” Black said. “Kris is such a talented player. He moved a lot because his teams needed him to move, so a lot of it is team-related, as well as the player’s mental fortitude and wherewithal to move and be fine with it.”

Does playing one spot with the glove help his performance numbers?

“I think so,” Bryant said. “I remember doing an interview in maybe ’16 or ’17, someone presented the numbers where when I was focused on one position, they were better. Since then I’ve gotten better at moving around, I’ve adapted to that. But I’m hoping the defensive numbers see an uptick when I’m focused on one spot.”

Almost all here

Outfielder Raimel Tapia, whose fit with the roster will be a focus as camp progresses, arrived at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Saturday. The lockout had delayed his visa process. Catcher Elías Díaz has been in camp just a couple of days. Outfielder Yonathan Daza will be the last to arrive, but he was expected in camp Sunday.

Tapia was effective at times as a leadoff hitter last season, but his periodic slumps and time missed with a right big toe strain opened playing time for Connor Joe.

Tapia has bat-to-ball skills and made a habit of hustling out doubles when swinging well. And, with Black noting that his defense is improving “incrementally,” he can move from left field to center.

However, there is an argument for more power in their lineup -- even with Bryant’s addition. Sam Hilliard has homer potential, although he has to dramatically improve his contact rate over his career performance thus far.

Tapia could attract trade interest. However, the lockout delayed arbitration cases, so teams might await his salary being set before accelerating talks. The large number of available free agents also could affect the thoughts of the Rockies and potential trade partners.

Quick hits

• Second baseman Brendan Rodgers was scratched from the lineup just before Saturday's 8-5 loss to the Giants with back tightness. Black said the decision was precautionary and "he'll be fine."

Garrett Hampson, who at times has served as the Rockies' leadoff hitter, opened the bottom of the first with a home run off Giants righty starter Tyler Beede.