By Joe Connor
He confesses they’re “very lofty.” But you can forget about trying to get University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant to divulge his own personal baseball goals for the 2013 college season because he’s playing it close to the vest. Well, mostly.
“My roommate knows them,” said the soft-spoken Bryant, a 6-foor-5 third baseman. “Because there on a piece of paper taped to a door in our dorm, but that’s about it. They’re five simple goals. I will say they have to do with more of the mental side of the game.”
The junior got to test his 2013 goals opening weekend, and while he batted 2-for-9 with four walks, he also failed to produce with runners in scoring position in his final at bat in the last two contests of the three-game series. Bryant’s Toreros were swept by cross-town rival San Diego State, getting clobbered, 8-1, in the opener on Friday, before mounting comebacks Saturday and Sunday to no avail, losing 4-2 and 5-3, respectively.
In the series finale, down by two runs, Bryant came to the plate with one out and the bases loaded in the ninth, but quickly got behind in the count, 0-2, to Aztecs closer Bubba Derby. After taking a ball, Bryant then chased a high fastball to strike out. It was reminiscent of his last at-bat Saturday.
“He laid off of pitches out of the zone until that last at-bat. He’s got really good plate discipline,” said one major league scout before Sunday’s game who has observed Bryant since high school. “But it’s tough to stay patient, especially for a guy that’s going to be pitched around. He’s one of the more polished hitters in the country.”
The Aztecs strategy to not let Bryant beat them worked as he recorded no RBI over opening weekend. Meanwhile, Connor Joe, the cleanup hitter batting behind Bryant, went just 2-for-13 in the series.
Bryant’s four walks in nearly a third of his plate appearances opening weekend, however, clearly showcased one of his unique strengths: uncanny plate discipline for a power hitter, one who belted 14 HR a year ago with 59 RBI and a .366 average. He also leveled off his swing during his sophomore campaign from his inaugural year where he had a tendency to occasionally swing uphill.
“He saw some tough breaking balls and laid off of them,” added another major league scout that watched the series, and has covered Bryant since high school. “He knows his strengths and weaknesses. He’s not as much of a free swinger as he used to be.”
It’s most likely Bryant will remember the last two at-bats of the series when he steps back into the batters box next, Feb. 22, as the Toreros welcomes 2012 Cinderella Kent State to San Diego for a four-game series. That’s because one of the 2013 goals Bryant did divulge, after much prying, was improving his at-bat to at-bat approach.
“There were some (at-bats) in series’ last year where my mind wandered off,” Bryant admitted.
Toreros coach Rich Hill, who got a commitment from Bryant his sophomore year of high school, said one of the areas where his third baseman has most skyrocketed is in the weight room.
“His core strength is a night and day difference from his freshman year,” Hill explained.
“The work in the weight room, plus all the tools have really improved. This is the vision we had when we recruited him.”
Bryant has added 20 pounds since joining San Diego, but his real strength has come in his legs, particularly his quadriceps and hamstrings where he can now perform weight room exercises on those muscles using 100 more pounds than previously.
Following an off-season that included playing for Team USA and in Cuba’s famed national stadium before 25,000 fans, Bryant wants to cherish what is going to be – barring unforeseen circumstances – his final NCAA season. It’s expected he’ll be a top selection in June’s 2013 MLB Amateur Draft.
“I’m having a blast here. The coaching staff is amazing,” he said. “But I think it’s my time to go.”
Joe Connor is a freelance writer, college baseball junkie and author of the annually-updated online travel companion, “A Fan’s Guide to the Ultimate NCAA Ballpark Experience,” which is available for purchase exclusively at his web site, www.mrsportstravel.com.