By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — A subtle storyline of this extraordinary start to the Cubs season has been the versatility provided by Kris Bryant.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Illinois: 1,182 New Coronavirus Cases, 5 More Deaths; Lowest One-Day Death Toll Since September
Chicago’s everyday third baseman, Bryant has morphed into a semi-regular left fielder for the Cubs, who boast baseball’s best record at 24-6 and have won seven in a row. A flex player might be a better way to describe the Bryant’s role right now.
Bryant has been the most productive performer this side of second baseman Ben Zobrist, the co-National League player of the Week. Bryant is hitting .368 with three home runs, 14 runs scored and 13 RBIs in the team’s last 14 games through Sunday. He’s hitting .299 with five homers and 20 RBIs for the season.
Manager Joe Maddon has had the luxury of moving Bryant back and forth from left field to third base without missing a beat defensively. Meanwhile, the duo of Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo threatens to become the next big-time 3-4 combo in baseball. Rizzo has already established himself as a legit 30-homer-a-year player. Bryant’s on the cusp, having hit 26 long balls in his NL Rookie of the Year season of 2015.
“I don’t think about us as big-damage-type guys,” Bryant said. “We can do that, but I am a hitter, just trying to hit it hard and help the club win every day. Anthony is well on his way to being that slugger you can count on. To be mentioned with him and some of the top guys would be cool. I have never thought about that. Me and the other guys on the club are just trying to make our way. That is how I am approaching each and every day right now.”
Bryant’s excellent defense has made it easy for Maddon to put him in the outfield. That flexibility has helped the team immensely with catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber out for the season and outfielder Jorge Soler in a season-long slump. By putting Bryant in left, that opens up more at-bats and playing time at third base for Javier Baez and Tommy La Stella, who are each performing well.READ MORE: Park District Spring Program Sign Up Starts Monday
“It’s about getting Javier and Tommy more involved,” Maddon said.
The loss of Schwarber and deep slump by Soler has changed the dynamic of the Cubs lineup. Soler’s hitting .181 with two home runs and six RBIs in 29 games and 72 at-bats. The progress he’s made has come defensively under the guidance of outfield coach/bench coach Davey Martinez.
Though the Cubs are committed to the 24-year-old Soler and believe in his future, Maddon won’t put him in games unless the matchup is favorable for him.
The overall solid performance of Bryant at either position gives Maddon a nice platoon when he wants it. Against right-handed pitchers, Maddon can start the lefty-hitting La Stella at third base. Against lefties, it will be righty-swinging Baez. Maddon added that Baez will also get starts when a groundball pitcher like Lester is on the mound because he’s a better defender.
“Everybody has been playing almost on a nightly basis,” Maddon said. “They are all picking up at-bats. You probably will see (Baez) and Tommy a little more at third base.”MORE NEWS: Chicago Police Seeking To Identify People Involved In Last Summer's Clash With Officers At Columbus Statue In Grant Park
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.