I did my first and so far only public big board for the 2013 MLB Draft back in August 2012. I’d love to publish an updated version in the coming weeks, but feel like some annotation to the original ranking might make for some interesting content until the real deal big board is ready to see the light of day. Allow me to begin this look back with a rare display of personal horn tooting. My third overall prospect back in August stands out as one of the growing group of players that I believe Houston would be wise to consider with the first overall pick in June. Kris Bryant has been a damn exciting prospect for as long as I’ve run this site, but the leap he’s taken in 2013 deserves special attention. Before we get to what kind of prospect Bryant is today — spoiler alert: really damn exciting — let’s take a quick look back at his evolution as a prospect over the years.
Bryant was my 39th overall prospect in 2010, sixth among a solid group of third base prospects. The names that ranked ahead of him, in order: Nick Castellanos, Kaleb Cowart, Garin Cecchini, Rob Segedin, and Zack Cox. I prefer Bryant to Castellanos now, but it’s really close. The Tigers prospect gets the slight edge as a hitter, but Bryant wins in power, speed, and potential outfield glove. I’d also take him over Cowart and Cecchini without much consideration for the pro guys, though the likelihood that both stick at third — in theory — is much higher than whatever odds you want to put at Bryant remaining at the hot corner. The less said about Segedin and Cox as pros, the better off we’ll all be. Alright, fine, I can’t keep quiet: I’m still a believer in Segedin, though I admit I thought his transition to pro ball would be a lot smoother thus far. Anyway…
Despite the borderline first round ranking, I wasn’t a huge fan of Bryant back in his initial draft year. It bums me to admit that now, but it’s true. The Troy Glaus comparison was the trendy one at the time. I acknowledged that the comp had some merit, specifically when it came to body type, power upside (40+), and defensive skill set, but preferred to compare Bryant to slugging corner infielder Mark Reynolds. Reynolds is a complicated to evaluate player today, so it should be noted that the timing of the comparison makes a difference. Bryant’s initial draft year was after Reynolds’ best season in the bigs. His 2009: .260/.349/.543 with 44 HR and 24 SB. He also may have led the league with a few strikeouts or something (223, but who’s counting?), a factor that was considered in the comp when evaluating Bryant’s longer than you’d like high school swing. That concern has obviously gone by the wayside, thanks in part to some polishing of his swing but mostly because we (fine, me) severely underrated Bryant’s pitch recognition at the time.
I’ve written about Bryant twice this spring, so we’ll do a quick revisit to those quotes while we think of something new to say…
I currently have Kris Bryant listed as an OF/3B, a fairly significant change from the 3B/1B designation he entered school with. I’m totally buying in on Bryant’s athleticism playing in an outfield corner, at least for the first few years of his professional career. His body looks much better now than it ever did in high school — he managed to pull off the stronger yet leaner look that I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to figure out — and his arm is plenty strong enough to play in right field. There remains an above-average chance he sticks as a playable third baseman for the foreseeable future. His bat works anywhere, so determining his long-term defensive home is more of a matter of how great his future can possibly be than whether or not he will make it in pro ball. All of the standard developmental caveats apply, but the range of outcomes for Bryant look like this: upside of star-caliber player at third to steady, contributing bat at first, with something in-between those two if he winds up in right.
As I’ve said before, I think Bryant will be a well above-average regular in right field if given the chance. I wasn’t a huge fan of his when he was a senior in high school, but the improvement he’s shown since then — the only thing that looks better than his modified swing is his much sleeker physique — says something about what kind of prospect he is. As a draft prospect, think of him as a safer version of last year’s 39th overall pick, Joey Gallo. His old high school comp of Troy Glaus — one of those so obvious comps that you can’t help but see it — also makes a lot of sense as a pro ceiling. That’s big time.
The big amendment I’d make to those guesses is that I think Bryant has legitimate star upside as a right fielder. The power is real and spectacular, his hit tool is fine, his athleticism is above-average, his speed is average once underway (little bit of a slow starter, but forgivable for a big man), and there are no questions about his work ethic and attitude toward continual improvement on the diamond. Using that as a basic scouting template, it’s time to see if we can figure out a few comps to give us a frame of reference for the type of player Bryant can be.
In all honesty, it doesn’t take a genius to connect the dots between Bryant and another recent big name star college third baseman turned all-star big league outfielder. While his college coach Rich Hill (via Aaron Fitt at Baseball America) dug deep for a Pat Burrell comp (as well as a really intriguing Jayson Werth comp), I prefer the more recent vintage of former Hurricanes star Ryan Braun. Here’s a sampling from Baseball America’s early scouting report on Braun (with obligatory Burrell comp included):
Braun has all five tools. He works counts waiting for a pitch to hit, then has the bat speed-thanks to very quick hands-to hit for excellent power. His approach and power remind some in the organization of another former Miami third baseman, Pat Burrell. Braun is a plus runner, and his average arm strength should be enough for third base.
Swap out Braun’s plus speed and average arm for Bryant’s plus arm and average speed, and you’re really on to something here. Braun and Bryant match up fairly well from a scouting standpoint, but what about the numbers? So glad you asked.
Braun FR 2003: .364/.435/.665 – 28 BB/57 K – 13/17 SB – 242 AB
Bryant FR 2011: .365/.482/.599 33 BB/55 K – 18/21 SB – 197 AB
Very, very similar numbers, especially in terms of plate discipline. Also similar in speed (slight edge to Bryant) and power (edge to Braun).
Braun SO 2004: .335/.439/.606 – 24 BB/34 K – 21/27 SB – 155 AB
Bryant SO 2012: .366/.483/.671 – 39 BB/38 K – 9/12 SB – 213 AB
Bryant with the edge across the board as a hitter, only advantage for Braun coming via speed.
Braun JR 2005: .388/.471/.726 – 33 BB/39 K – 23/30 SB – 219 AB
Bryant JR 2013: .383/.554/.938 – 29 BB/16 K – 5/6 SB – 81 AB
Obviously too early in Bryant’s junior season to make a direct comparison, but things look good for the USD star. Clear advantages in plate discipline and power are mitigated only somewhat by Braun’s persistent speed advantage. It all makes sense when you look back at the early Braun scouting reports citing his plus speed. Braun is still an above-average runner (30+ steals the last two seasons) whose speed plays up thanks to savvy base running instincts. I see Bryant’s most likely stolen base totals rivaling those of Glaus, a big man who rumbled to three years of 10 or more from age 23-25 in his athletic prime.
If Braun doesn’t grab you as a comp, I think a second name ought to get your attention: how about fellow NL Central star Matt Holliday? A young Holliday works better in a straight body type comparison to Bryant, and I think Bryant’s statistical upside more closely mirrors what Holliday has done as a pro. Here’s BA on Holliday back in the day:
Strengths: Holliday’s ticket to the big leagues will be his bat. The ball jumps off it and he has legitimate power. Having grown up in an athletic family, he has maturity not normally found in a young player. He has four-tool potential, coming up a bit short in the speed category. Weaknesses: Holliday has to work on his quickness and lateral movement if he wants to become a big league third baseman. If not, first base or possibly left field could be his ticket. Giving up football should allow his body to loosen up, and could lead to the quickness scouts haven’t seen.
Braun, Holliday, or “I hate comps and I think your* a hack for using them!!!,” my basic point remains the same: we’re talking rarefied air with Bryant as a hitting prospect. Power, patience, and enough hit tool/speed/athleticism that you don’t worry too much about his aging curve and “old player skill set.” The aforementioned speed, athleticism, and plus arm strength should make him at least average in right field in time, though I suspect he’ll be better than that before long. For reference’s sake, going solely off similar players in Baseball America’s top 100, I’d put Bryant behind Oscar Taveras and Xander Bogaerts, comfortably ahead of Oswaldo Arcia (to be fair, even making this comp is a stretch as Arcia is probably the most dissimilar player to Bryant that I chose), a tick ahead of Courtney Hawkins, and right at the same level as Wil Myers, Nick Castellanos, and Jorge Soler. I think the total package is worthy of serious consideration at 1-1.