I watched quite a few Cubs games in the 1970s and 1980s. When the wind was blowing out in the applicable time period, I would be in 'rush home from school' mode, as I wanted to see what Dave Kingman was doing.
For those of you not old enough to remember Dave Kingman, he was the first overall pick in the June 1970 draft. A bit of a baseball vagabond, Kingman homered for four different teams in 1977. Power was never a problem for Kingman, but contact was. His career batting average was .236. He was a bad defender, no matter where he was hidden. His baserunning wasn't much better, though he stole 16 bags in 1972. After his year-of-traveling in 1977, he came to the Cubs as a free agent in 1978, and had his best stretch of his career. In his three years with the Cubs, his lowest OPS was .850, with his highest being a league-best .956.
Kingman had a tendency to be withdrawn away from the field, and had a few run-ins with media types. He rarely walked, and his negatives sometimes outweighed his positives on a team that tended to implode in memorable fashions. Nonetheless, he was the biggest draw for the North Siders during his three seasons with the team.
Thursday, the Cubs selected Kris Bryant with the second pick in the draft. While people scurry to try to figure out a proper comparison for a 6-foot-5 hitter with league-leading-style power, especially one that can stick at third, none really apply. Troy Glaus, Scott Rolen, and a few others have been tossed of as possible comps. Maybe Matt Holliday (who played third in his first few minor-league seasons)? Bryant, however, is who he is. We won't know what that will be for a few years.
So I opt for the worst-ever comp to get across a point -- the 6-foot-6 Dave Kingman.
Kris Bryant appears to have gotten along well with his teammates at the University of San Diego. Even if Bryant can't stick at third (I'd give him a 40 percent chance of sticking at the hot corner, based on absolutely nothing but watching him play two games on my computer), he won't be an embarrassment in the outfield (Kingman's career dWAR was -17.1) in a worst-case scenario. Bryant drew more walks in the 2013 college season (66) than Kingman had in any MLB season. Bryant should be a competent baserunner at worst, and ought to hit well over Kingman's career mark of .236.
If Bryant were to roll the same career numbers offensively as Kingman, he would have a career oWAR of 22.6. Bryant should be better than Kingman. He ought to provide positive defensive value, if not at third, then in the outfield. Two of Kingman's four top WAR season's were in Wrigley, peaking out at 4.1 in 1979.
It will be a few years before Cubs fans can accurately decide if picking Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray would have been wiser than going with Bryant. Even then, and either way, none of us will know if a change in venues would have led to a different result. It does appear that Bryant ought to be capable of providing a home-grown middle-of-the-order hitter for until 2020, or so. In Kingman's three years with Wrigley as his home park, his average oWAR was annually around 3.0. If Bryant starts stringing up some years with raw numbers like Kingman had, with better defense and better patience, that should be a nice piece on a good run of Cubs teams.
As much as I was leading the charge for Jonathan Gray, Bryant will give the Cubs and their fans something they haven't had in many years -- a homegrown middle-of-the-order bat. Even if he doesn't master third, and I think there's a solid shot he can pull off that trick as well.
A good major-league baseball team has more than eight good hitters. As you look back at most squads that have solid six- or eight-year postseason runs, they often have good hitters on the bench, anxiously awaiting a chance to get in the game. Bryant will probably learn to play some first base on his way up. While he will need repetitions at third in the minors, he figures to (on occasion) spell Anthony Rizzo at first, unless Bryant is that good at third. Bryant will probably play some third, some right, and some at first if he has an eight-year (or longer) stint with the Cubs. I expect him to get some tries at first in Daytona and Tennessee to that end, at least at first.
With a lineup with players like Rizzo, Jorge Soler, Starlin Castro, Albert Almora, Bryant, and a few others, the Cubs could have a quality largely home-grown lineup by 2015 or 2016. With the front office getting good at finding quality starting pitching options, and a commitment in the first two days of the 2013 draft of finding possible relievers, the corner is starting to get turned. Sadly, the team may well be in the top fifth of the draft for each round next season, as well.
There is no guarantee on anything in baseball, but it looks like the holes in the USS Wrigley are being patched up in a reasonably adept fashion, if not quickly enough for many fans. Bryant will be a key piece on a good Cubs team rather soon. Whether at third or in right, it's doubtful the lineup in those years will be keyed on one player, which all too often has led to recent Cubs players getting pitched around. Bryant, Soler, Almora, and an improving pitching staff ought to be steps along the way for a number of fun years of baseball on the north side of Chicago. The results might not show in the standings next year, but at some point, this ought to be fun.
Because it won't be based on only one or two fun-to-watch players.
Like Dave Kingman.