NL Rookie of the Year retains enthusiasm after soaring to stardom
By Cody Stavenhagen
One year ago Sunday, Kris Bryant made his Major League debut to more fanfare and expectations than any rookie in baseball.
Now, when Cubs manager Joe Maddon drives to Wrigley Field each morning, he is one of many who don't just hear about Bryant. Maddon sees him, featured in Express ads on billboards and bus stops all over Chicago.
"I guess that's one of the things that come along with this," Bryant said. "I never in a million years would have thought that."
Bryant, 24, won the National League Rookie of the Year in 2015, hitting .275 with 26 home runs and 99 RBIs in addition to his 5.9 wins above replacement. In less than one year, he went from touted prospect to a feared presence in the middle of the lineup.
Bryant says, though the billboards and shiny clubhouses make life a bit different, he never had a moment where he felt like a Major League player.
"I don't feel any different than I would have growing up," Bryant said. "I'm out there just playing in front of more people on an awesome field."
Aside from Bryant's natural ability, that outlook might be the biggest reason he is a prospect who lived up to the hype and became one of baseball's most likable young players in the process.
Bryant claimed the status of a bona fide Chicago star, but his boyish approach hasn't diminished. He can play third base or outfield, hit singles and hit for power, be a big leaguer, a model and a kid.
"I kind of enjoy it, just playing all over the place," Bryant said. "Playing Wiffle ball in the street when I was younger, it was all over. So it's a lot of fun for me."
Bryant's first year came with many accomplishments, but he also wants more.
"I've always been about action, doing it on the field and not worrying about what people are saying about me or anything like that, because I know deep down I want to be better than what everybody is saying about me," Bryant said. "I think I wouldn't be here if I didn't have that type of mentality and desire to just continue to learn, be better and become that all-around baseball player.
"I guess that's what continues to push me."
As Bryant looks backs, he admits it has been a big year. In some ways, his debut seems like a lifetime ago. In some ways, it feels like yesterday.
In either case, he says he hasn't changed, and that is the beauty of Bryant.
"He's just different," Maddon said. "There's no pretentiousness about him whatsoever. He's a baseball player. He loves to play. He comes ready. He doesn't whine, he doesn't complain.
"And it's just one year."
Cody Stavenhagen is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.