MESA, Ariz. (AP) No. 77 would seem to be the typical spring training number assigned to a player soon to be heading to the minors.
The Chicago Cubs, though, see a large piece of their future in that number. And that future may not be far away.
Third baseman Kris Bryant is a significant prospect.
Early on in camp, the 22-year-old Bryant become a batting-practice draw, sending home runs up on the freeway embankment near the Cubs’ new spring training complex. He had a homer in the first spring game.
Bryant grew up in Las Vegas and played in college at San Diego. He turned out to be a dominant power hitter and won player of the year honors in college baseball last year.
The Cubs made him the No. 2 pick in the draft last June and he then earned MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League by hitting .364 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 20 games.
Bryant said he wasn’t surprised by his performance.
”I have a lot of confidence in myself in competing with the best,” he said. ”I was playing as hard as I can. Things really worked out great there.”
Cubs’ fans, of course, are curious about when he might first appear in the big leagues. There has been speculation it could come as soon as the end of the 2014 season.
”Right now, I’m just focusing on the moment, trying to get better, get ready for the season,” Bryant said. ”Whatever happens out of here, happens. But I’m here to get better and learn from the guys here.”
”His performance speaks for itself,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. ”We’re excited to have him.”
Undetermined is if Bryant can play well enough defensively to be an everyday third baseman. If not, he might have to look at playing the outfield.
Bryant likely will start the season at Class AA, Hoyer said. From there, Hoyer said, ”he’s got to perform. And he controls that.”
Bryant knows he can bring to the Cubs.
”I would say my calling card is power,” Bryant said. ”That’s what’s gotten me where I am today. But I like to focus on all areas of my game because I believe you can get better in every area. I’ve been working all offseason and working here just to tighten up on all areas of my game.”
Bryant figured out long before he left for college that he might be playing the game professionally.
”I think I realized that when I was probably 12 years old,” he said. ”Things started coming more naturally to me. I started to separate myself from some of my teammates.
”When I was 12, I had a good Little League season. After that, `’This is what I want to do. I want to be a professional baseball player.’ I’ve run with that dream ever since.”