Kris Bryant was the most dangerous hitter in college baseball last year and was taken as the second pick in the draft. The third baseman has lightning in his bat. Power like his is rapidly disappearing from the landscape and He is, without a doubt, the most exciting player to sign with a major league team in the past calendar year.
Bryant hit 31 home runs last year at San Diego to lead Division 1 baseball. He established almost Ruthian dominance over his competition as the second place hitter stroked only 21 homers. He was also first in slugging percentage and total bases – 187 in 62 games. His 1.314 OPS does not lose any luster when adjusted for park and schedule. College Splits calculates that in a neutral context it would have been 1.325. Bryant’s numbers might not look out of place historically, but offense in the college game has waned since new bat standards were introduced.
Bryant signed early enough to play 36 professional games, splitting time between Low-A and High-A. He hit .336/.390/.688 with nine home runs. Next on the docket was 20 games in the Arizona Fall League where he hit .364/.457/.727 with six home runs. He was first in OPS, tied for first in total bases, and won the league MVP trophy. At each level his ISO was over .300 and his wRC+ exceeded 200.
Bryant’s raw numbers are unreal, but there are some clues under the hood that he is not quite Roy Hobbs. All his BABIPs are in the .400s. While this is not unusual for strong hitters against low-level competition, it means his ultimate ability to hit for average is questionable. He struck out roughly 25% of the time in pro ball. If that mark increases it makes him risky. Upon moving up to High-A his BB/K also decreased from 0.47 to 0.18. He righted the ship in the AFL and took walks well enough in college to indicate that should not be a chronic problem.
Bryant’s spray charts show plenty of long fly balls along with a high concentration of grounders to the left side of the infield. His GB/FB ratio was almost even, ideally he would loft pitches a little more or increase his 18.18% line drive rate. The pulled grounders suggest he may chase some “pitcher’s pitches” that he would be better served laying off. He should make the adjustments in time.
Based on prospect rankings most scouts believe Bryant has All Star level talent. Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks is confident that “he’s going to make enough contact for his raw power to play.” An executive not with the Cubs told Jon Heyman that he has 50 HR type power.
Bryant might only receive a brief look with the Cubs this year, but his youth gives him the advantage over Jose Abreu in dynasty leagues. The prospect ranks are swelling with pitchers. Even potential studs like Masahiro Tanaka, Mark Appel, or Jonathan Gray just part of a larger pack. Bryant is the biggest prize among first year players in 2014.