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October 24, 2014

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Ex-Bonanza star improves his baseball stock as collegian

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Steve Marcus

Former Bonanza High School baseball player Kris Bryant gets ready for the batting cage during practice at the school Tuesday, March 2, 2010.

Kris Bryant

Bonanza High School baseball player Kris Bryant throws the ball during practice at the school Tuesday, March 2, 2010. Launch slideshow »

If Kris Bryant was a mediocre student at Bonanza High School, he would likely have been rewarded by receiving a job with a bonus of more than $1 million.

But because Bryant ranked near the top of his class, had a weighted grade-point average of 4.78 and expressed a desire to attend college to study dentistry, he became an unattractive option.

That’s the often-wacky world of professional baseball.

Front office personnel prefer to draft prospects who aren’t candidates for college and are ready to join a club’s minor league system, not those like Bryant who told scouts his dream was to play college baseball and earn a degree.

“I wish the system didn’t go that way. You should be rewarded for a high GPA, but that scares scouts away,” Bryant said. “My parents always stressed education growing up. I had to have good grades to play baseball.”

Bryant, a 2010 graduate of Bonanza, was projected as a top 50 overall pick in last year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Entry Draft — a selection that likely comes with a signing bonus of at least $1 million.

But because the power-hitting third baseman was solidly committed to attending the University of San Diego, where he had a full baseball scholarship, scouts backed off and his stocked dropped in the draft. He wound up being selected in the 18th round by the Toronto Blue Jays.

“He was a top round prospect, trust me,” Bonanza coach Derek Stafford said. “There were scouts at my field every hour of every day telling me that. The kid was real committed to going to college. That is what got floated around.”

This year’s draft is Monday, when plenty of potential picks will be faced with the same decision as Bryant: accept a big signing bonus and head to the minor leagues, or earn an education and possibly improve your draft stock in three years. Players who attend a Division I school aren’t draft-eligible for three years.

That’s perfectly fine with Bryant.

A year after his decision, which came with minor criticism from some in local baseball circles, he’s having the last laugh.

The 6-foot-5 Bryant thrived almost immediately at San Diego, batting .365 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs in a competitive West Coast Conference to be named last week the league’s Co-Player of the Year and Co-Freshman of the Year. More important, he was tabbed as a third-team All-American selection by Louisville Slugger.

He led the league in home runs, total bases and batting average.

“He played every inning of every game and batted in the three spot. That’s impressive,” Stafford said. “He took a lot of criticism because he didn’t go pro. That’s overrated. He’s doing the right thing and he proved that this year.”

Bryant led San Diego with 57 runs scored — 20 more than any teammate — and was 18 of 20 on stolen bases. He had 22 multi-hit games, a team-best 15-game hitting streak and on-base percentage of .482.

Bryant is majoring in biology and has maintained a respectable grade-point average, which he considers an equal accomplishment to his accolades on the diamond. Not too many athletes major in biology, a fact that is not lost on the ballplayer.

“It’s a pretty tough (major), so yeah, it scares a few people away,” he said jokingly.

Bryant is spending the summer playing for the Chatham Anglers in the prestigious Cape Cod League. The league is widely scouted by major league teams, meaning that if Bryant continues his hot hitting, he’ll likely hear his name called in the first round, after all.

And, he’ll have his education from San Diego to fall back on — the best of both worlds.

“This is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life,” he said. “The whole college experience is something you can’t put a price tag on.”

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