Charles Rex Arbogast / AP
Sunday, March 16, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Kris Bryant needed just one at-bat in his first spring training game with the Chicago Cubs to confirm his status as one of the best prospects in baseball.
Facing the Los Angeles Angels’ Jarrett Grube at the end of last month, the Bonanza High product worked the count to 3-2 and fouled off a few pitches to keep his plate appearance alive. Then, the pitcher finally caved, hanging a slider over the heart of the plate.
Bryant crushed the ball over the 420-foot sign in center field, connecting for a home run in his first at-bat in a Cubs jersey and showing off the pure power some believe will put him on a fast-track to the big leagues.
“It was a pretty memorable first at bat. I will remember that the rest of my life,” Bryant said. “It’s a good story to tell. ...He left it over the middle of the play. I am supposed to hit those pitches.”
The Las Vegas native returned to the area this weekend with the Cubs for a Big League Weekend two-game series with the New York Mets at Cashman Field. Bryant didn't bat in Saturday's game but is expected to play when the teams meet again at 1 p.m. today.
The 22-year-old third baseman was the second overall pick in last June’s draft, receiving a $6.7 million signing bonus. He’s ranked as baseball’s No. 36 overall prospect by MLB.com and is considered by some as a savior for a franchise again projected to be the worst in the National League Central.
Those are lofty expectations for any player to achieve.
But Bryant, just like in his at-bat against the Angels, has proved to be wise beyond his years. He surely didn’t resemble a player in his first spring training.
“He’s a very poised young man who has shown some tremendous power,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s shown well. He’s a very confident young man.”
Here’s how highly the Cubs think of Bryant: Despite optioning him earlier this week to their minor league spring camp, he was still included on the roster for the two days in his hometown.
Bryant grew up attending the Big League Weekend exhibition and Las Vegas 51s Triple-A games at Cashman Field. Now, it was his turn to be the main attraction.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity (to play at Cashman). I’m glad they put me on the roster,” he said. “It’s always good to play in front of friends and family.”
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Bryant has been giving friends and family reason to cheer, especially last year.
During his junior season at the University of San Diego, he belted 31 home runs to receive the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top amateur player.
Then, during his first go-round in the minor leagues, he had nine home runs and 32 RBIs in 36 games. In the offseason, he continued to shine in hitting six home runs in the Arizona Fall League, winning MVP honors.
“It was the best year of my life,” he said. “It has gone by so quick. Just a special memory I will always have and a year to remember.”
And his career is just getting started. Cubs officials believe he’s a star in the making, comparing his power to some of the game’s all-time greats. The best part of his ability: his maturity.
“That’s a real grounded kid,” Renteria said.