Ruthian homer helps boost USD third baseman Bryant into top-tier draft talk

Published April 26, 2013

| Associated Press

With each retelling, Kris Bryant's mammoth home run gets more Ruthian and Bunyanesque.

The ball either cleared the 80-foot light tower in left field at the University of San Diego's Fowler Park, or at least was even with the lights before it sailed deep into the drizzly, foggy night, probably landing on the football practice field down the hill. Whether it went 500 or 600 feet depends, again, on who's telling the tale.

Unfortunately, it's not on YouTube because the game against Saint Louis in early March was the one home game when the webcast didn't include a video feed.

Regardless, it showed the kind of power that should get the quiet, humble and smart Toreros third baseman drafted in the first five picks of the June amateur draft, and established him as a leading contender for the Golden Spikes Award.

If he continues to drive balls out of the yard, Bryant might be in the conversation for the top pick. Houston, the Chicago Cubs, Colorado, Minnesota and Cleveland hold the first five picks.

In a sense, Bryant's shot was his equivalent of the homer that helped make Bryce Harper famous when he was a high school freshman in Las Vegas — a 570-foot blast that sailed over the right-field fence and cleared a five-lane street before landing in the desert.

"I thought it went over the light tower," said Bryant, who got full extension on a 94-mph fastball. "I don't really watch my home runs when I hit them, but this was the farthest ball that I've ever hit in my life."

Then, the humble Bryant comes out, the one who's had the benefit of learning the game's nuances from his father, Mike, who was a ninth-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1980 and played two minor league seasons.

"To me, it's just a homer. It went over the fence so I'm happy and we ended up winning the game," Bryant said.

Bryant's homers don't just go over the fence. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior leaves no doubt when he launches them to all fields.

Among his many eye-popping stats, Bryant's 21 homers in 41 games lead the nation and have established a school single-season record with 13 games to play. His 44 homers in three seasons have set the school career record; the old mark was set in four seasons.

Bryant went yard twice against UC Santa Barbara at home on April 16, and then hit one in all three games of a weekend sweep at Santa Clara. It was the second time this season he's had five homers in four games.

Batting .352, Bryant also leads the nation in slugging percentage, .883, and walks, 50. He has a .523 on-base percentage and an off-the-charts 1.406 OPS. He's scored 52 runs and driven in 44. He's grounded into a double play only twice in three seasons.

Bryant is nine months older than Harper, the phenom who made his big league debut at 19 last year with the Washington Nationals. They played for rival high schools in Las Vegas and at one time were teammates on a travel team. They took different paths toward their dreams of playing big league ball.

Harper skipped his final year at Las Vegas High, earned his GED and then played one season of junior college ball at the College of Southern Nevada to become eligible for the 2010 draft, when he was the No. 1 pick overall. He was an All-Star and the NL Rookie of the Year.

"I think the choice he made was the right one," Bryant said of Harper. "Obviously going to CSN and tearing it up out there helped him a lot. My path is just a little different."

Bryant was drafted out of Bonanza High by Toronto in the 18th round in 2010 after hitting .489 with 22 homers and 51 RBIs.

But the stat Bryant was proudest of was his 4.78 GPA.

"Teams in the upper round want a for-sure sign and I wasn't that guy because I take pride in my schoolwork," he said. "Coming to USD and having three years of schooling under my belt is only going to help me in my future."

Bryant has a 3.35 GPA in finance at USD, a small hilltop Catholic school with a million-dollar view of Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. After his sophomore year, an administrator said he should seriously consider applying for a Rhodes Scholarship. Bryant declined because he's ready to play pro ball.

"Deep down I feel like I have the confidence in myself that I think I'm the best player in the country," Bryant said. "I may not show that on the field, but it's definitely inside and I feel that when I'm out there on the field."

Bryant said playing against Harper made him better: "He was the top guy and I really wanted to compete with him and try to outdo him, and I think he's made me better as a player just looking at the great thing's he's done."

Harper said he hasn't spoken with Bryant in a few years but has kept up with his career.

"You could see he's doing well. He's doing it the right way, and he's got huge upside, definitely," Harper said recently. "He's an incredible talent. He's smart out there. Great IQ for baseball."

"He was smart in high school," Harper added. "Going to USD and getting his education was huge for him. Being able to get that and also being drafted this year — and in the top three picks, probably — is going to be huge for him. I'm excited to see what he does."

Mike Bryant and USD coach Rich Hill think going to college was a smart path for Kris, who also played for Team USA and in the Cape Cod League. Both say it should cut down the time it will take him to reach the majors.

Besides working with Kris on hitting since he was 5, Mike Bryant, who describes himself as a "hair-on-fire type of guy," has taught his son the importance of the mental game.

"I know where a lot of potholes are on the road," said Mike Bryant, who once held the University of Massachusetts Lowell career record with 21 homers. "I've taught Kris to avoid all the mistakes I made, to stay humble and be a type B personality; when he hits a home run, to act like he's done it before. Put the game first, treat opponents and your teammates right and always put others ahead of you in the game."

Said Hill: "My favorite thing about Kris is his character. This is a guy who's not going to go out and about. He's on time. He works extremely hard at his craft. He's very genuine. He's sincere."

Hill thinks Bryant is the best position player in the draft and definitely the best position player he's coached in his 25 years in college ball.

"If were the Houston Astros I'd take him No. 1," Hill said. "I think he's a game-changer immediately in that park. If somebody like the Cubs or the Rockies get him, I mean, that's an RBI every time he steps into the box, even if nobody's on base."

Hill thinks Bryant will be an adequate big league third baseman, but believes he has Gold Glove potential as a right fielder.

Bryant knows what part of his game is attracting the most attention.

"I realize the hitting part and more specifically the power part is a big part of my game," he said. "I really work on that and try to be as consistent as possible."

Bryant said his dad gave him $100 after he hit his first Little League homer at age 8. After that, his grandfather gave him $20 for every homer.

"Maybe that's where the power came from," he said with a laugh. "I loved the incentives that they gave me. I made some good money from it."

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington contributed.

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http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2013/04/26/ruthian-homer-helps-boost-usd-third-baseman-bryant-into-top-tier-draft-talk/