The accolades keep coming in for Kris Bryant. Today, Baseball America named Bryant their 2014 Minor League Player of the Year. He had already been named Minor League Player of the Year by USA Today, but now he adds the oldest and most prestigious of such awards. Bryant becomes the first Cubs player to ever win this honor, which was first awarded back in 1981.
Baseball America notes that in an era of disappearing power, Bryant is a rare hitter with light-tower power who also rarely loses control. He is able to hit the ball hard and leave the park to all fields. While others such as, and let's be honest here, Javier Baez try to put the ball in the upper deck each time, Bryant stays within his game and simply tries to hit the ball hard. He's just as happy with a ball that goes barely over the fence as one that goes leaves the stadium. They also note that, unusual for a power hitter, Bryant is not a pull hitter and that he is just as likely to sneak down the right field line as he is to crush one to left-center field. His home runs don't always make your jaw drop. They just go over the fence. In fact, Bryant's 43 home runs are the most of anyone to win this award since Ron Kittle hit 50 in 1982.
They also noted Bryant's rare ability to hit for both power and average. Beyond the 43 home runs, Bryant hit .325 this season between Tennessee and Iowa. Baseball America compares Bryant's offensive package to that of Giancarlo Stanton.
Baseball America notes that the Cubs keep trying to challenge him, only to discover what they thought was a challenge turned out to be no challenge at all. They sent him to the Arizona Fall League in his first professional season. They jumped him to Double-A at the start of this season after having played only a short time in High-A. And then they moved him to Triple-A mid-season this year. The Cubs expected all three assignments to be challenging, only to discover that Bryant handled all three with ease.
Bryant's defense is also addressed by BA, and even Bryant says that is the one area that he needs to work on. They report that most scouts now believe that Bryant has the ability to be an average major league third baseman, although they think he would be better than that in right field. Bryant wants to stay at third base, but the article notes that even if Bryant can handle the position, he may be forced to move as the Cubs try to get him, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro and Addison Russell all in the lineup at the same time.
While winning the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year award is not a guarantee of future success, most who win this award go on to have great major league careers. Past winners include Mike Trout, Matt Wieters, Joe Mauer, Paul Konerko, Andruw Jones, Derek Jeter and Bryant's Iowa Cubs teammate, Manny Ramirez.
Baseball America also addresses the point of contention around here, the fact that Bryant was not given a September call-up. While acknowledging that the move was related to service time issues, they also note that this was actually a vote of confidence in Bryant by Cubs management. Unlike Baez or Jorge Soler, the Cubs simply didn't think Bryant needed a breaking-in period in the major leagues. Any challenge the Cubs have thrown at him, he's been able to handle. They don't think the majors will be any different.
Finally, BA notes one group of Cubs fans that might not be so happy with Bryant: the ball hawks on Waveland. Not only will Bryant his as many on to Sheffield as he will to Waveland, Bryant won't put on a show in batting practice. In batting practice, Bryant tries to stay away from "bad habits" by simply staying within himself, going to all fields and working on just putting the ball in play. He saves the power for the games. No doubt, it will be worth it.