It’s been a little while since we jumped the “Best Shape of His Life” market back in late December with a look at how Kris Bryant is attacking his winter workouts, so we figured it was time for an update. When we last left our hero, the “quiet assassin” had returned to his familiar swing with the one-handed finish and was making loud noises in the cage four days a week. He’s since stepped things up a bit.
Bryant is maintaining the high intensity of his strength routine and has now picked up the pace in the cage by hitting sliders and curves rather than just fastballs. This is all coming under the watchful eye of his father, Mike Bryant, who turns breaking-ball duties over to a Hack Attack machine that can replicate all manner of pitches. The same type of machine the Cubs and other teams use, it can even reach triple digits at 60 feet.
This is all part of the process of Bryant getting his timing and strength back as he recovers from the shoulder injury that impacted his swing most of the 2018 season. In that regard, this winter’s preparation mirrors that of last year, when the goal was to improve plate coverage and pitch recognition.
“Tracking the ball is just part of an approach that raises one’s awareness level, trying to see the spin on it as early as one can,” the elder Bryant shared with CI. “I call it : See it; Track it; Be easy; Go oppo.
“Pick the ball up out of the hand (See it), then laser-beam focus on it (Track it), then kick in the ‘relax mechanism’ (Be easy), and try to drive it to the opposite field gap (Go oppo), which locks in good mechanics.”
Locking in those good mechanics will be key, since Bryant had to either abandon or modify almost everything he’d previously known in order to accommodate the bum wing. He shortened his backswing with a two-handed finish, lost bat speed, and simply wasn’t able to maintain the consistency that comes from what had previously been a very repeatable move. So now it’s about rebuilding things to return to his MVP form.
But how do they do that?
“It’s a combination of two things,” Mike told CI (in a piece that was published just a day before the injury that wrecked his son’s season). “First of all, we work really hard in the offseason with a pitching machine at a high rate of speed, mid-90’s, trying to get to that arm slot [described here] early so that the bat gets in the zone longer.
“The other thing was just the mental part, to be able to — within 20 seconds, because that’s the time in between pitches — grasp that concept of creating a heightened state of awareness and being able to focus, trying to track the ball. Not just see the ball, but to track the ball, to see the spin off the hand.”
By all accounts, Bryant is 100 percent healthy and driven by a desire to prove to everyone that last season was an aberration. Which it was, since his numbers prior to injury were significantly better than at any other point in his decorated career. Just imagine him maintaining that .305/.427/.583 slash with a 169 wRC+ throughout the season. That’s so damn nice I need a cold shower.
As hard as it can be to swallow the front office’s new favorite line that improvement has to come from within, it’s really obvious that Bryant returning to form will immediately improve the Cubs’ chances a great deal. And they’re projected to win the division with 89 wins right now. Given how motivated he is to remove the “former” from MVP, it’s not a stretch to say Bryant could exceed his NL-best fWAR projection this season.
And you know what? I’ll take that a step further and say it wouldn’t surprise me if KB is able to approach or even exceed the 7.9 fWAR he accumulated in 2016. But just in case, maybe the Cubs should go ahead and sign some other guys to help him out.