Bryant determined to prove self to Rockies fans

January 28th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding’s Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

DENVER --  hopes that this is his time to finally let Rockies fans get to know him.

Bryant signed autographs, answered questions and smiled all day Saturday during Rockies Fest at Coors Field, where a record number of fans were able to get close with their team. It was Bryant’s first time at the event, which had been dormant for a few years because of stadium construction and the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, the Rockies know up close that they signed a genuine dude to a seven-year, $182 million contract before the 2022 season. But what they have seen little of in two seasons -- 122 games combined with a 93 OPS+ that’s seven points below the MLB average -- is the player who commanded the deal.

Rockies fans have seen Bryant with recurring injuries: plantar fasciitis, a bruised heel, back problems and, just when it seemed all that was behind him last summer, a broken left index finger when he was hit by a pitch. All Bryant can answer with is a star-studded history that includes four All-Star Game trips, National League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player seasons -- all with the Cubs.

Bryant would amend that. His history is all he has to show so far.

“The biggest thing is you just look at the back of someone’s baseball card, right?” Bryant said. “I know that's the type of player I am. I've played for a long time. I've had my fair share of ups and downs, but you know, [I have] the desire in me to perform and be a good baseball player and do big things on the field help the team win.”

The Rockies signed Bryant after a year that saw them deal third baseman Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals and lose through free agency shortstop Trevor Story (Red Sox) and pitcher Jon Gray (Rangers). But instead of lifting the team through its transition, Bryant has been forced to take baby steps -- much like the team has had to focus on through seasons of 68-94 and 59-103 records.

Bryant didn’t play in 2022 after July 31, so coming back from the finger injury last season for 15 September games was an improvement that he hopes leads to a giant leap.

“I didn’t want to be going through any [offseason] rehab and wasting any time,” Bryant said. “I wanted to be out there with the guys. I definitely felt a little rusty [.158 with two homers in 60 September plate appearances] but I felt healthy. So that was great. I’m super eager to get out there with a clear mindset.”

If Bryant approaches the offensive impact the Rockies envisioned, he can join a group he compliments as workmanlike, saying, “the best teams I’ve played on had that same mentality.” But if injuries continue, he could be watching those hearty youngsters surpass him.

Bryant was originally signed to play left field. He transitioned to right because of injuries, but his old left-field job isn’t available because star rookie Nolan Jones ran with it last year. The Rockies want to use him at first base, but they also want to see if younger players Elehuris Montero and Michael Toglia are ready to make the position theirs. Bryant also figures to be part of the designated hitter rotation with Charlie Blackmon and whatever younger player isn’t in the lineup that particular day. 

Bryant has stepped outside his shy personality to help younger players since joining the Rockies.

“I’ve really embraced that the last couple years,” Bryant said. “I hope to add more on the field, too.”