Bryant returns home a polished product

Cubs' Maddon says slugger is a 'new and improved version'

Bryant returns home a polished product

LAS VEGAS -- Kris Bryant only needed 20 tickets for Thursday's exhibition game between the Cubs and the Mets in his hometown, joking that he didn't have many friends. However, the Cubs third baseman is quickly becoming a popular guy.

Last year, his jersey was ranked the most popular in Major League Baseball. Manager Joe Maddon likes the attention the young Cubs get.

"I like the fact that people consider our players charismatic," Maddon said.

Bryant's homecoming went well, as he went 1-for-2 with a walk and knocked in the go-ahead run as part of a three-run fifth inning as the Cubs rolled to a 5-1 victory.

Bryant's Q rating is on the rise. When the Cubs played in Las Vegas last March, Bryant led the Major Leagues in Spring Training home runs, hitting a pair in the Las Vegas series. But he opened the season at Triple-A Iowa. Once he joined the Cubs, he was there to stay, batting .275, hitting 26 home runs and driving in 99 runs. He was named National League Rookie of the Year.

"It was a really good year for me and a lot of good things coming my way," Bryant said. "There were a lot of opportunities and I'm grateful for them. I can't put into words what last year was like. It was so much fun for me."

He signed a clothing deal this offseason to add to his list of endorsements. So far, it hasn't detracted from his game.

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"You talk about what you need from baseball and I think our group [of young players] is good for baseball in regards to attracting young customers," Maddon said. "I think our goal should be not to just attract players but make young people want to follow baseball and stick with a team."

Bryant, 24, is staying with the team rather than at home to stay in work mode. He did have lunch with his family, but his father, Mike, who helped Kris with his hitting, didn't make his son do any extra work on Thursday.

"He's pretty pleased with the way my swing looks like now," Kris said.

So is Maddon.

"Progressively, this year, he's hit one home run this Spring Training," Maddon said. "I'm going to tell you he's a much better hitter this year. He's driving in runs with singles, which will put him in that 100-plus [RBI] category on an annual basis. He'll still hit his home runs this summer.

"My point is he's made a lot of adjustments in the count," Maddon said. "It's a new and improved version of K.B. from last year and it will keep getting better."

Asked to compare Bryant with other players, Maddon declined.

"I'd just like him to be the first Kris Bryant," Maddon said.

There's no pressure, Bryant said.

"What Joe says a lot is 'pressure is a privilege,'" Bryant said. "We wouldn't want to be in any other position. We're all embracing the situation we're in. No pressure -- we're out here having fun. We know we have a pretty good team this year and we have to go out and play now."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.