The Chicago Cubs are in the middle of a long-overdue rebuilding project they hope will bring the franchise a championship sometime in the next century. A once-depleted farm system is brimming with talent that will soon make its way to Wrigley Field.
Among the key players in this new group of talent waiting for a chance to show what he's capable of is Kris Bryant.
The No. 2 pick in the 2013 MLB draft, Bryant has made quite an impression after just 36 regular-season games, hitting .336/.390/.688 across three levels. He followed that up with an MVP run in the Arizona Fall League after posting a .364/.457/.727 line in 20 games.
A lot of small sample size stats can and should be taken with a grain of salt, but don't underestimate what Bryant is capable of. He was the second overall pick because he has the rarest of tools that all 30 teams are looking to find: power.
However, if you evaluate Bryant's swing and tools, he doesn't look like the prototypical power hitter. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman and 2013 NL MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt.
Pre-Draft Scouting Reports
Basing this comparison just on draft reports paints a one-sided picture. Bryant was seen an elite talent in a solid draft class, while Goldschmidt was the 246th player taken in 2009 out of Texas State University.
Goldschmidt's biggest problem when he was drafted was his body. He is listed at 6'3", 245 pounds today, roughly on par with where he was coming out of college. It's not a terrible frame, but he lacked range, and as a first-base-only player, the bat has to be special for teams to take notice.
The Baseball America scouting report (subscription required) noted a lot of respect for his power, while cautioning that the bat might not play well at first base.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bryant earns good marks for his athleticism and potential to play either third base or, if necessary, right field.
The Cubs drafted Bryant as a third baseman, his position at the University of San Diego. His arm will play at the hot corner, but there are red flags that have been noted.
ESPN's Keith Law (Insider subscription required) noted Bryant's lack of range at third base could necessitate a move to right field, where the slugger's bat would profile just fine.
I had an opportunity to see Bryant multiple times in person during the Arizona Fall League. Third base doesn't always come naturally. He can make routine plays, but he has a tendency not to set his feet, causing the ball to sail, or just makes an occasional bad throw.
Bryant does earn higher marks for athleticism than Goldschmidt, though neither player is elite in that regard. Goldschmidt rates as below average, while Bryant is a lanky 6'5", 215 pounds and moves well for a player with his build.
Here is where the similarities between Bryant and Goldschmidt really come into play. Neither player has the kind of elite bat speed that makes you take notice when they are in the box.
Usually the best power hitters will have bat speed because they will be facing pitchers who throw harder than anything they have seen before and it allows them to catch up to it.
Javier Baez, who will join Bryant in Chicago very soon, is the perfect example of someone with bat speed that can make grown men cry. Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen also fall into that category.
Goldschmidt has learned to make the best of the tools he has, while also hiding the deficiencies he has, to become an elite player. There was a time when he looked like a platoon player miscast in an everyday role.
It was just one year ago when Goldschmidt hit just .257/.326/.412 against right-handed pitching, compared to a Herculean .343/.423/.645 against left-handed pitching.
You don't suddenly pick up new tools as a 25-year-old, so a change in approach and hitting strategy is what took Goldschmidt from a platoon player to MVP-caliber player who led the National League in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS+ and total bases.
As a right-handed hitter, Goldschmidt had 101 hits that went back up the middle or right field in 514 at-bats last year. This year that number jumped to 148 in 602 at-bats, an increase of nearly five percent.
The one thing both players have always earned high marks for is power. We have seen what Goldschmidt can do at the MLB level, while we anxiously await Bryant's arrival to see if the hype can match expectations.
They make up for their lack of bat speed with short swings that allow them to get to balls quicker. Both players figure to rack up a lot of strikeouts—Goldschmidt had 145 in 2013—but if you hit the ball hard, the average will play at a respectable clip.
My fellow B/R MLB prospect writer Mike Rosenbaum, who had Bryant ranked as the No. 24 prospect in baseball at the end of the year, talked about the swing and what changes need to occur.
Wide stance and base; effortless, quiet swing for slugger; toe-tap load with balanced weight transfer through the baseball. Will be forced to improve pitch selection and recognition in the majors. Swing has some length and makes him vulnerable to plus velocity on the hands; present plus-plus raw power to all fields.
You can see from the videos that Bryant doesn't get the kind of leverage in his swing you usually see from a player with his profile. It's not as rotational, very quiet and easy. He's so strong and gets to the ball quickly that the power plays at plus-plus in games.
Take a look at Goldschmidt's swing. Notice how similar it is to what Bryant does. He's not quite as spread out as Bryant, but there isn't a lot of extraneous movement before driving through the zone.
Both players utilize a quick toe tap for timing and then push forward. You can also see there isn't much loft in the follow-through for either player, atypical for traditional power hitters.
Even though Goldschmidt hit .302 in 2013, Bryant doesn't project to be that kind of all-around hitter. He does struggle to read off-speed stuff out of the pitcher's hand and can get a long swing.
It's not a huge detriment because Bryant does display good patience and could turn into a solid on-base percentage guy.
Being a .270 hitter with a .340 on-base percentage, 30-35 home runs and average defense at third base or right field is still a star.
You know how many players had those offensive numbers in 2013? Seven. Technically six, but I included Evan Longoria, who was one point away in batting average.
|Players with .270 BA, .340 OBP, 30+ HRs in 2013|
|Chris Davis, Baltimore||.286||.370||53|
|Miguel Cabrera, Detroit||.348||.442||44|
|Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona||.302||.401||36|
|Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto||.272||.370||36|
|Adrian Beltre, Texas||.315||.371||30|
|David Ortiz, Boston||.309||.395||30|
Baseball is a different game today than it was a decade ago. A player like Bryant would have fallen into the middle of the pack with those kinds of numbers in the past, but now he's a standout talent waiting for his time to come.
Goldschmidt and Bryant don't fit the current bill of exciting players to watch because they are fairly one-dimensional. They don't have speed in the traditional sense, though Goldschmidt has been able to use his instincts and ability to read pitchers to steal 10-15 bases per season.
Neither one is going to play a premium position. Goldschmidt has been relegated to first base since college, while Bryant has a chance to stay at third base but could end up at a corner outfield spot.
They didn't project to be great hitters for average coming out of college. Goldschmidt has proven that he was much more than the sum of his pre-draft parts. Bryant's still developing and has time to correct that (slight) flaw.
Defense isn't a strong suit for either player. Goldschmidt plays an acceptable first base, but has rated below average there in 2012 and 2013. Bryant is not a great athlete, though he does possess enough skills to be a decent glove wherever he ends up.
The calling card is the power. Both players had it coming out of college; Bryant's was far superior to Goldschmidt's. They showed it in the minors. Goldschmidt has translated it to the big leagues.
Bryant is going to get his shot to do so very soon, possibly at some point in 2014. Don't be shocked if you see his name on an MVP ballot in the next few years.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.
If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.