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Cubs power up, pick slugging 3B Bryant No. 2 overall

Cubs power up, pick slugging 3B Bryant No. 2 overall

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Cubs power up, pick slugging 3B Bryant No. 2 overall

CHICAGO -- The Cubs hope they found a power-hitting third baseman in San Diego's Kris Bryant, who's ready to insert himself into the middle of the lineup immediately.

The Cubs selected Bryant, 20, No. 2 overall in Thursday's first round of the First-Year Player Draft. Asked how soon he could get to the big leagues, he deferred to the front office.

"I obviously think I could play in the big leagues now," Bryant said. "I have that type of confidence in myself, but, like I said, that's not my decision. I'll leave that up to the guys in charge."

The guys in charge include Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, who met with the infielder in San Diego. For Bryant, it was like meeting a rock star.

"It was just crazy," Bryant said in a conference call with Chicago media. "I grew up watching baseball, obviously. He was the general manager who everybody knew. He was always in front of the camera. He was the guy.

"He won two World Series with the Red Sox. It was just crazy to actually sit down and talk to him face to face. It's something I'll remember forever and be able to tell my kids and grandchildren -- that I was able to sit down in college and meet Theo Epstein face to face, which is something a lot of people don't get to do."

Epstein wasn't the only one who chatted with Bryant. Jason McLeod, vice president of scouting and player development, has strong ties with the San Diego coaching staff, which helped in terms of background checks. What did the Cubs learn?

"It's how he carries himself on the field, how he deals with adversity, how he prepares, what kind of student athlete he was," McLeod said of the items they checked on the list. "All the information we gathered made us feel really good about him as a person and a player."

He definitely has the baseball skills. Bryant was considered the best power college bat in the Draft. A Golden Spikes finalist, he led the nation in home runs (31), runs scored (80), walks and slugging percentage (.820). In 62 games, he batted .329 with 13 doubles and 62 RBIs. San Diego would bat him leadoff to avoid having teams pitch around him.

"He has the attributes of a player who can fit in the middle of a Major League lineup for many years, with his athleticism and his overall hitting ability to go along with the obvious power that plays in any field and any park," McLeod said.

A Las Vegas native, Bryant was named to the West Coast Conference All-Academic team. A finance major, he's smart. Bryant said he'll leave negotiations to his family and advisers. The Cubs' bonus pool is $10.5 million, with $6.7 million allotted for the first-round pick.

His mother lived in Chicago, so there are some family ties to the area.

"I know they're all smiling back there," Bryant said.

He also had done a little homework on the Cubs.

"I know they haven't won a World Series in a while," Bryant said. "Hopefully, I can do all I can to help the Cubs win one. That's about the extent of what I know. I know it's a great baseball city, I know it's a great team -- a lot of history to it. I'm excited and just happy I'm going to be given the opportunity to continue playing this game."

The Cubs had narrowed the candidates to a final four: Bryant, North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran, and pitchers Jonathan Gray of Oklahoma and Mark Appel of Stanford. Appel went first overall to the Astros and the Cubs passed on Gray, but they added a pitcher in the second round, taking Missouri left-hander Rob Zastryzny with the 41st overall pick.

Zastryzny (pronounced ZAS-tris-knee) was projected by some as a possible first-round pick. Baseball America ranked him as the 12th-best left-hander available. He has four pitches -- fastball, changeup, slider and curve. At the SEC tournament, scouts clocked his fastball in the mid-90s.

Cubs manager Dale Sveum watched video of Bryant as well as the other top players. There was one quality they were looking for.

"They want the guy to be an impact player," Sveum said of the Cubs' front office. "Nothing's guaranteed, we all know that. The key to those high picks like that is it's easy to say, 'Make sure it's an impact player.' Whether it's a position player or a pitcher, you want him to be an impact player in a couple years when you're drafting that high."

The last time the Cubs had the No. 2 pick overall was 2001, when they selected right-handed pitcher Mark Prior.

This is the second Draft for Epstein, who took over the Cubs in October 2011, and general manager Jed Hoyer. Last year, the Cubs chose high school outfielder Albert Almora with the sixth overall pick.

Almora, who recently joined Class A Kane County, tweeted earlier Thursday: "Good luck to all the players getting drafted today! This is a day you will never forget! #baseball family"

Day 2 of the Draft continues with Rounds 3-10, streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 11:30 p.m. CT. And Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at noon.

MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.

The Cubs currently have third baseman Christian Villanueva, now at Double-A Tennessee, and Daytona infielder Jeimer Candelario in the system, but neither has the power Bryant does. Villanueva was acquired from the Rangers in the Ryan Dempster deal last July 31, and he got a good look this spring. Josh Vitters, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2007, was batting .270 at Triple-A Iowa, but he has been slowed because of injuries, as has infielder Junior Lake, who just joined Iowa.

Bryant was recommended by area scout Alex Lontayo. The infielder was at home with his family, watching on MLB Network.

"My expectations weren't too high," Bryant said. "I went into the [Draft] happy that I had a great season at San Diego and did everything I could to help my team win. I knew if I did that, the whole Draft would take care of itself, and it has, so I'm very pleased."

His approach at the plate obviously impressed the Cubs. Bryant admitted to being "pull happy," but he said that started to change when he hit a home run to right-center in San Francisco.

"The biggest thing for me was I focused on hitting the mistake pitch," he said. "I felt I did that almost every time they threw one over the white. I was extremely pleased with that, and it will help me in my future, definitely."

The Cubs plan to keep him at third base, where there's a need in the organization. The toughest part, besides signing Bryant, might be keeping him in the Minors. He's ready to play for the Cubs now.

"I think every ballplayer should think that," Bryant said. "You should think you can go out and play with the best of the best. I've been doing that my whole life -- I played up when I was younger. That confidence is definitely inside me."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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