Bryant producing but staying patient

ST. LOUIS -- A rainy night off for the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday was also a night off for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies as their game against the Jackson Generals in the Southern League was postponed as well.

A rainout is about the only thing that can stop Cubs prospect Kris Bryant from hitting these days. The No. 2 overall pick in last year's draft has been on a tear.

"I've gotten a lot of good pitches to hit lately and I've done what I'm supposed to do with them,” the reigning Southern League hitter of the week said by phone Wednesday night.

Bryant has 11 home runs to lead the league after hitting four last week, then adding another one Tuesday. It was a blast that Cubs pitcher Jose Veras saw in person as he finished his rehab stint with the Smokies.

"He hit a homer to center field that was like 400 feet, and the wall like 40 feet high," Veras said. "He hit it over that like nothing."

"He's unbelievable. This kid is unbelievable. He hit like six bombs when I was down there."

The accolades continue to pour in for the 22-year-old Bryant, so the question on everyone's mind is when will he be promoted to Triple-A Iowa? That's the next step as his .324 batting average, .620 slugging percentage and OPS of 1.045 are screaming for a promotion to the next level.

"Right now it's not something we've talked about," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "I think it's important to know what ballpark you're going to [be at] every day, who your teammates are. We drafted him, then to Boise, then Daytona, then the Fall League, then Tennessee. It's probably important to have a few ups and downs before we have that discussion."

So the Cubs want Bryant to have some stability. That's just fine with him considering the Smokies have been on a run, putting up huge offensive numbers. Another top prospect, Jorge Soler, returned from injury and has started off strong, but it's Bryant who stirs the drink on offense for them.

"Going from spring training to the Tennessee Smokies has been awesome," he said. "The fan base is great. I'm having such a fun time so far. ... It's good to have guys behind me. Good to have Soler back in the lineup. The team here is pretty special."

And they think he's pretty special too.

"Everybody loves him," Veras said. "Unbelievable teammate. He's humble, he's a leader of the team."

Veras must have used the word "unbelievable" 10 times in the span of a few minutes to describe Bryant. Whatever that "it" factor a player needs to become special, Bryant seemingly possesses it. Hoyer likes the story of his first days as a professional.

"This guy went 0-for-5 with five punchouts in his first game in Boise, and right after that he hit in like 16 or 17 games in a row and got [promoted]," Hoyer said. "That's the kind of thing that would shake a lot of people and I feel like he has confidence in his own swing."

Many around Bryant say he is his own best hitting coach. He admits to needing help, though. Asked when his biggest struggles came since being drafted last June, he said it was during spring training. He hit .111 in 18 at-bats with two home runs and struck out 11 times.

"It was definitely spring training," Bryant said. "Just finding my timing. A lot of guys reassured me it was just spring training. That's what it's about. Learning."

Said Hoyer: "He was showing up first thing in the morning to get through that."

Bryant seems to have the ability to adjust quickly. He was having a normal start to this season at Double-A and then he took off.

"Having a more solid approach," Bryant said. "Realizing how pitchers are trying to get me out and not letting them do that. ... I think the first couple of weeks was definitely a learning process."

It's the same thing he'll eventually go through at Triple-A and the big leagues. The ability to quickly adjust might make him a special player at the highest level in the world.

"He's going to face a lot more good pitching along the road," Hoyer said. "He'll have some downs along the way and hopefully he can fight through those."

It's exactly what top prospect Javier Baez hasn't been able to do so far this season at Iowa. It was Baez who stole the headlines with prolific home runs in spring training, both in games and during batting practice, but the script has been flipped during the regular season.

"It's kind of hard to hold that kid back," Bryant said of Baez. "He has an incredible amount of talent. I hear he starts out slow, but there is no doubt he'll finish where he wants to be."

Bryant should know talent. Hitting home runs has always come easy for him. The other parts of baseball is where he needs his greatest work. He thinks his defense is getting better despite nine early-season errors. You could almost hear him shaking his head through the phone.

"Silly mistakes," he said.

As for the Cubs' situation, Bryant isn't focused on it. He's far removed from Chicago right now and the grind of the minors takes up all his attention anyway.

"Besides the fans in Tennessee, I don't really hear that," Bryant said. "It's hard to focus on that because I'm all the way out here playing every day. I have a job to do out here. I block out all the distractions and things I can't control."

What he can control is how far he hits a baseball. Bryant realized the home run that Veras saw Tuesday was no easy poke -- at least not for most players.

"Going into the series everyone was saying don't hit to center because it doesn't really travel very much," Bryant said of the minor league park in Jackson, Tenn. "I got hold of it pretty good. Men on second and third I'm supposed to get the ball in the air in that situation. I'm just happy I got the job done."

Picturing his power at Wrigley Field has to make even the most cynical Cubs fan interested. The power has played at every level where he has performed, but it's not going to play in Chicago any time soon. Maybe next year. Bryant has business to attend to where he is.

"We've found our little thing here," he said of the 23-16 Smokies. "Whatever plan they have for me I'm going to go with it. My job is to go out there and hit the ball as hard as I can and pick the ball at third base.

"I'll just go out there and play as hard as I can. The other stuff I can't control."