USA Today revealed their 2014 Minor League Player of the Year winner on Wednesday, with the honor going to Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant.
A panel of nine writers conducted the voting for the award, according to USA Today’s Bryce Miller in a release. Each writer’s vote counted as one. There was also an online vote completed by the fans, valued at two points. Bryant received nine votes. The other two both went to Texas Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo.
Bryant saw 594 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A this past season, hitting a combined .327/.428/.666 with a minor league leading 43 home runs. He’d add 34 doubles and 15 stolen bases, but also struck out 162 times.
To see Bryant have such success on the diamond this quickly comes at little surprise, given how heralded his potential has become. The biggest question appears to be focused on where he’ll play long term given the expansive prospect depth that the Cubs currently enjoy in their farm system. Bryant has primarily been a third baseman since his father taught him to swing a bat and if given the choice would like to remain at the position.
The Cubs, to their credit, appear to be sticking to that plan for the time being if we’re to believe Theo Epstein. Epstein spoke at length with ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers about Bryant’s season and the decision behind not bringing him up for September. He also provided some hints into what the team plans for Bryant include, such as some occasional time in the outfield to keep him “fresh”:
“We’re going to keep outfield fresh for him. Now that it’s been a full year since college, we want to make sure he doesn’t lose that. We think – no doubt in our minds – he can play third base and be a really good third baseman, but we just don’t know how the roster is going to look a year from now, two years from now, five years from now. We want to keep that fresh for him.”
With his season coming to a close, Bryant will head home to Las Vegas where he’ll likely continue to train his swing with his father, Mike Bryant, who spent two seasons in the early 1980s in the Boston Red Sox organization. He learned hitting tips from Ted Williams in that span, which he used to help Kris. One of Mike’s other students just happens to be Gallo, who Kris has become great friends with.
Bryant will come to Spring Training next year with every chance at winning the team’s starting third base job, but there will almost certainly be financial considerations that will come into play. Waiting until late April to call Bryant up will delay his free agency clock by a year, to 2021, which will be a factor in the Cubs’ final decision.