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Draft Spotlight: Kris Bryant


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Kris Bryant and Bryce Harper played with and against each other growing up in Las Vegas. Through the years, they became two of the most-decorated sluggers in the game.

But while the young phenoms had similar backgrounds and ended up sharing many of the same career accomplishments, it’s not like they traveled the same path or shared the same sense of urgency to get to their intended destination.

As products of the same 2010 draft, they went their own, separate ways.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Harper, 10 months younger than Bryant, was a player ahead of his time. In his haste to reach the big leagues, he pulled off one of the slickest maneuvers in draft history by skipping his final two years of high school to make himself eligible a year ahead of schedule, and fulfilled his goal of being taken with the No. 1 pick overall.

Bryant, at 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, would have been a first-round pick himself had he so chosen, but he was in no hurry to begin his own professional career, while a senior at Bonanza High, and elected to fulfill his college scholarship commitment to the University of San Diego.

While Harper spent only 139 games in the minor leagues, was a household name long before playing in his first big league game and earned National League rookie of the year honors as a teenager, Bryant bided his time in relative anonymity in college. But he was no less a dominant force against his level of competition, leading to his selection as the second overall pick in the 2013 draft—just one spot later than Harper was taken three years earlier. Like Harper, he accepted the largest signing bonus in his class.

Though Harper, 17 when he signed with the Nationals, got an obvious head start on his former youth-league teammate and garnered most of the early attention, Bryant was no less an accomplished prospect when he signed with the Cubs at 21. Even by following largely in Harper’s footsteps, he signaled his own, much-anticipated arrival in the big leagues by accomplishing many of the same feats as Harper did before him.

Both were recipients of the Golden Spikes Award, symbolic of the top amateur player in the country—Harper for slamming a national-high 33 homers in 2010 in his one season in junior college at the College of Southern Nevada, Bryant for drilling a national-best 31 long balls as a junior at USD in 2013.

Bryant, too, passed quickly through the minors, playing in just 181 games, but was the 2014 minor league player of the year—an award that eluded Harper. A year later, there wasn’t a more hyped or ballyhooed debut in the big leagues in years than Bryant’s—with the exception of Harper’s—and he succeeded in joining Harper by winning the National League rookie of the year award, though Harper was in the process himself of setting the bar again for Bryant by earning NL MVP honors.

“It was only a matter of time before he got up here,” Harper said of Bryant. “Great talent, a lot of power. When we were younger, we used to call him ‘silk’ because he was so smooth with everything he did.”

Growing up in Las Vegas, the pair was an intimidating 1-2 punch while playing on the same teams before they were even 10, and later for the powerful Southern Nevada Bulldogs, when Bryant was 12 and Harper 11, and they routinely excelled against older competition.

“We did play together quite a bit when we were 10, 11, 12 years old,” Bryant said. “We played on the same club teams. We were pretty good, we won a lot of tournaments, but I don’t think I was as highly-thought of as him, though. He was on another level. You should have seen some of the baseballs, how far he hit them when he was 12 years old. It was pretty fun to watch.”

Bryant’s early recognition that he was never quite as polished or complete a talent as Harper, even as he developed into one of the nation’s most-prolific power hitters as a senior at Bonanza High, helped him with his decision that attending college was a prudent course of action.

“Coming to USD was the best decision I’ve made in my life,” Bryant said. “I knew coming here that the coaches would get me a whole lot better, and they have in every area of my game, every year.”

The same evaluation of his step-by-step development was echoed by the USD coaching staff.

“The maturity I’ve seen in him as a player, it’s been leaps and bounds,” said Toreros coach Rich Hill, while Bryant was closing out his three-year career by being named the college player of the year. “His freshman year, he was a wiry, gangly kid with some holes in his swing, and he really had work to do on his defense. To his sophomore year, he kept getting better. To this year, he just blossomed. I mean 31 home runs with a BBCOR bat is ridiculous. And the scary thing is he keeps getting better.”

Other than their ties to Las Vegas and their prodigious power, Bryant and Harper were always as different as two stars could be.

Harper was always emotional, unfiltered and overly aggressive. Bryant was more mild-mannered and less polarizing.

“We have very different personalities, but I think that’s good for the game,” Bryant said, just before the two players squared off against one another for the first time in a big-league game in 2015. “It’s good to have guys who wear their heart on their sleeves and he’s one of those guys, and it’s awesome to see that. He plays so hard for his team. I think everybody can learn from that, because to play this game, you have to be confident. You have to believe you’re the best in the field. I do that in a different way.”

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