With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Cubs squad each day this week. Today's topic: How's Your Star?
MESA, Ariz. -- After Kris Bryant won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, there was some talk about him possibly experiencing a sophomore slump in '16. Evidently, Bryant didn't listen to such talk.
Last season, the Cubs third baseman added another trophy to his collection by winning NL Most Valuable Player honors. In his second year in the big leagues, Bryant batted .292 with 39 home runs, 35 doubles and 102 RBIs, all highs in his young career. He played in more games and continued to show his versatility in the field, starting at third base and in the outfield.
The Cubs' star is just fine, and he already has entered his peak production years at 25 years of age. But don't think Bryant is going to sit back and spend 2017 shining his trophies.
"I want to get back to hitting the ball to right field," he said. "In the Minor Leagues, that's where most of my power was -- to right-center."
In 2015, Bryant hit five of his 26 home runs to right field, while in 2016, he hit just one.
"I've done a lot of research this offseason, seeing where I'm pitched to," Bryant said. "I'm pitched inside so often. I pulled the ball really well this past year. I'm sure guys are going to start pitching me a little different, maybe go back to the other side of the plate. That's what they did in the Minor Leagues. A lot of guys threw the ball away, and I want to get back to what I did in the Minor Leagues."
Bryant was able to make the adjustments in the Minors, hitting 43 homers in 2014 at Double-A and Triple-A to win Minor League Player of the Year honors. In 2016, 20 of Bryant's 39 homers came off pitches thrown inside to the right-handed hitter, while he launched home runs 13 times on inside pitches his rookie year, according to Statcast™.
Bryant's 65 home runs and 201 RBIs in his first two seasons are a franchise record, and the Cubs have obviously benefited from his quick ascent, and not just on the field. Think about this for a second: Bryant made $652,000 in 2016. Of the seven NL players who drove in 100 runs last season, the Cubs and Reds (Adam Duvall, $510,000 salary) got the most bang for their buck. None of the others (Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rizzo, Matt Kemp, Daniel Murphy and Carlos Gonzalez) made less than $5 million.
The Cubs are enjoying the surge by the kids, and they know their payroll will change after the 2018 season when Bryant, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell will be arbitration-eligible for the first time.
There will be time to talk about that later. For now, the newly married Bryant could aim at another MVP trophy. Ernie Banks is the only Cubs player to win MVP honors in back-to-back seasons, doing so in 1958 and '59. Bryant and Banks have plenty in common. Bryant is the second Cub ever to reach 35 homers in his age-24 season, something Banks did in 1955. And Bryant was the youngest Cub ever to hit three homers in a game, doing so in a 5-for-5 effort on June 27 at Cincinnati. He did so 10 days younger than Banks did in '55.
Of course, Bryant did something Banks never did: win a World Series.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. 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.