Get ready for a new and improved Kris Bryant in 2019.
After a trying 2018 campaign, the Cubs are hoping the former NL MVP can turn in a “monster” rebound season next year.
Sure, talk is cheap with these types of things, but Bryant been a different mold. Bet against him at your own risk.
“I personally believe after sitting down with Kris after the way that he handled this year that he never really got back fully to what he can be,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference at Wrigley Field, “that this is someone that will put in the work necessary — physically, fundamentally, mentally, all phases — to have a monster year next year with what he learned this year.”
As of right now, Bryant won’t need offseason surgery on that ailing left shoulder that hampered him for the final 4.5 months of the season.
He injured it on a head-first slide into first base in mid-May and wound up missing nearly 60 games between two separate stints on the disabled list.
By the time he came back Sept. 1, Bryant had reworked the finish of his swing so that he kept both hands on the bat instead of letting go with his right hand and putting a ton of stress on that left shoulder.
Bryant rarely used that two-handed finish in game action over the final month, but he is utilizing it during his practice swings to help reduce the wear and tear on the joint.
Following the Cubs’ heart-wrenching 13-inning loss in the National League Wild-Card Game, Bryant refused to make any excuses about his shoulder, brushing off any notion that he was physically unable to perform at the level we’ve all come to expect from him.
As he stood at his locker, Bryant’s eyes welled up while he talked about the emotions and disappointment of the way the team’s year ended.
“I’m taking this really hard,” he said. “It’s really tough.”
He also felt like he deserved a lot of the blame for the Cubs scoring only 1 run in 13 innings against the Rockies.
“I missed a couple pitches that I could’ve done plenty of damage with and I missed ’em,” he said. “You’re always gonna look back on the things that you thought you could do better and that’s where I’m at right now.
“There’s plenty of things that I thought I could’ve done better and that’s why I’m so hard on myself. I care so much. That’s why this stings a little extra. It’s not fun.”
Bryant talked broadly about his entire season, saying it “definitely was not up to my standards” and explained how motivated he is to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
From May 15 through the end of the season, Bryant played in just 68 games (65 starts) and hit only 5 homers with a .751 OPS.
His .398 slugging percentage ranked 203rd in baseball over that stretch, behind such players as Detroit’s Jose Iglesias and Tampa Bay’s Mallex Smith. (For perspective, those two guys have hit just 28 homers combined in 950 career MLB games.)
Epstein believes we’ll all look back at 2018 as the worst year of Bryant’s career.
“With the offseason of rest and getting a full winter’s worth of work in, he’s gonna be 100 percent and better than ever,” Epstein said. “…He is taking a really positive approach to it where he’s learned a lot from the time that he missed.
“This is a guy who played every single game in high school, I think every single inning in college and just about every single game the first three years of his career and this is the first time he’s really dealt with injury and adversity. He’s challenging himself and we’re challenging him to make something positive out of it.”
Bryant shared the same sentiment as Epstein, feeling that he’s learned a lot that he can carry over to the rest of his career.
It wasn’t just the awkward slide that affected his shoulder. When the issue first popped up publicly, Bryant admitted he aggravated his shoulder because he took extra swings while trying to break out of his hitting slump.
The Cubs medical staff has given him a bunch of exercises already to continue to help build up strength in that left shoulder over the offseason…though Bryant didn’t think the offseason would come so soon.
He wasn’t ready for the Cubs to be done by Oct. 3 so he doesn’t have a set plan yet for the winter, but wants to take just a few days off before getting back into the cage to work on his swing again.
Bryant didn’t have any answers for why the Cubs lineup struggled with inconsistency throughout the season, but he’s taking personal ownership at rectifying the issue before spring training.
“We’d love to go out there and hit better with runners in scoring position, square the ball up more,” Bryant said. “But we just didn’t do that. It’s frustrating. I don’t have an answer to it. It’s making me more motivated to figure out a way to figure it out.
“That’s how I’ve always been my whole life, whether it be baseball or school work or playing Monopoly or whatever. I’m always gonna find a way to get better at it. This year didn’t go the way I wanted it to personally, but I think it’s when you’re in your low points and the lowest of the low where you build character and you learn the most.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself this year and the exciting part for me is to be able to apply that for the rest of my career.”