MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Bryant, Arenado: No. 1 in NL at third

League's best face off for second time this weekend

Bryant, Arenado: No. 1 in NL at third

CHICAGO -- Save the talk about a changing of the guard in the ranks of elite third basemen.

You're a little late on that, at least with regard to the National League.

Maybe you can still argue for Adrian Beltre's talent and experience over Manny Machado's range and explosiveness in the American League, but there's no doubt that youngsters Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant are the best third basemen in the NL. The only question is how great they'll become.

They are playing against each other this weekend at Wrigley Field, with Arenado and the Rockies taking the opener, 6-1, on Friday. The series with the Cubs marks only the second time Arenado and Bryant have faced each other in the big leagues, but they've already shared an All-Star clubhouse once and figure to do so regularly in future seasons.

Both Arenado and Bryant played at age 24 last season. Arenado finished eighth in NL MVP voting -- and manager Walt Weiss called it "a dereliction of duty'' that Baseball Writers' Association of America voters didn't rank him closer to the top -- while Bryant not only was named the NL Rookie of the Year but was 11th in MVP voting.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon loves both of them.

"Complete player,'' he said of Arenado. "I like him a lot. … He's got a lot of charisma when he plays. He's really good for baseball. I'm really a fan of this guy.''

Arenado's backhanded stop

Arenado won both the Gold Glove and the Silver Slugger last season, hitting .287 while leading the league with 42 home runs (tied with Bryce Harper) and 130 RBIs.

Maddon compares Arenado to Beltre defensively, which is the highest compliment he can give.

"He's Beltre good,'' Maddon said. "Beltre, to me, is the best, and Arenado is not far behind, if he is.''

Like all hitters who play in Colorado, Arenado's offensive totals are given a boost by the Coors Field effect. But Arenado hit 22 of his home runs on the road last season, leading the league in that category.

"People have just assumed that Nolan is a product of Coors Field without even looking at the numbers,'' Weiss said.

Maddon loves Arenado's approach at the plate. He doesn't back down from the big spots.

"Offensively, really good at-bat,'' Maddon said. "Kind of that clutch moment, [the] ability to hit when it matters. He's got that thing about him.''

Bryant admires the effortless way that Arenado plays.

"He makes it look easy,'' Bryant said before Friday's game. "That's the biggest thing, defensively and offensively. Some of those plays at third base that are pretty tough -- and I know because I play there -- he makes them look just like they're routine plays. It's fun to watch him in the field, obviously, but he swings the bat really well, too.''

Arenado is off to a good start at the plate, delivering seven extra-base hits, including four home runs, in the Rockies' first 10 games. Bryant homered against the Reds in the Cubs' wins on Wednesday and Thursday, both times hitting blasts through a stiff wind on cold nights.

Bryant's solo homer

Bryant sneaked the first homer just inside the left-field foul pole and hit the second one to straight-away left, but it's his ability to drive the ball to right field, as well as his speed on the bases, that Arenado would borrow if he could.

"He's a great player,'' said Arenado, who turns 25 on Saturday. "He can actually run very well. I think he goes oppo just as good as anyone in the league. It's impressive how much power he has to all fields.''

Bryant hit .275 with 26 homers and 99 RBIs last season. He had a .369 on-base percentage and stole 13 bases, helping the Cubs win 97 games and a Wild Card spot.

In part because he stands 6-foot-5, Bryant's ability to remain a third baseman was questioned after the Cubs selected him with the second pick in the 2013 Draft. He had a rare two-error game Friday but has been more than adequate in his first year as a Major League third baseman.

Bryant ranked 11th among the 30 regular third basemen in Defensive Runs Saved last year and ranked behind only Arenado and Todd Frazier in Baseball America's Best Tools survey of NL managers.

But Maddon loves taking advantage of Bryant's versatility. He has already given him starts in both corner outfield spots and doesn't hesitate to use him in center field.

"How about [how he played] left field?'' Maddon asked. "Did he look really normal and good out there? That's what I'm talking about. [He'll] just change gloves and go play. He loves playing in the outfield, too. He's just different. There's no pretentiousness about him whatsoever. He's a baseball player, loves to play. He doesn't whine; he doesn't complain.''

Bryant will celebrate his first anniversary as a big leaguer Sunday, more than likely playing in his 163rd game. While he did lead the NL with 199 strikeouts last season, he never really looked like a rookie.

Both Arenado and Bryant are products of year-round youth programs -- Bryant in Las Vegas and Arenado in Southern California. Bryant has said he played 172 games as a 9-year-old, and both he and Arenado traveled extensively for tournaments.

Bryant says he never ran up against Arenado's team, but Arenado remembers it differently. He says his team, the Giants, were pounded regularly by a Las Vegas team that included Bryant.

"They used to beat up on us all the time,'' he said. "They were way bigger than us.''

These days it's a fair fight, and one likely to continue after they've both developed into perennial All-Stars.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.