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Levine: Kris Bryant's Rookie Season Is One For The Ages

By Bruce Levine--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- When assessing Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant's rookie season, the numbers are impressive and the individual player is even more so.

The No. 2 overall pick in the June 2013 draft, Bryant has dominated every level of play, from high school through college through the minor leagues. After a monster spring training was followed by Bryant being forced back to the minors for contact control purposes to start the season, he has achieved instant baseball stardom at the major league level.

At 23 and with a couple weeks left in the regular season, Bryant has already set the Cubs rookie records in RBIs (93), and his 24 homers are just one shy of tying Hall of Fame outfielder Billy Williams for the franchise's rookie record. Bryant's hitting .274 with an .860 OPS.

Getting a day off Friday as the Cubs hosted the Cardinals in the opener of a three-game series, Bryant reflected on what has been an electric season on the north side of Chicago. The Cubs entered Friday with a magic number of nine to clinch a wild-card spot.

"This is definitely a grind and very tough," Bryant said. "That said, when you get to this time of the season and are playing for what we are playing for, it is much easier to get up for the games. We don't feel like we are at game 145. We have plenty of energy, we have a very positive clubhouse. Guys are having a lot of fun together. You just feed off of each other. You get energized from those sluggish days, and that is kind of where we are at right now."

The season hasn't been all a bed of roses for the affable Bryant. The strikeouts have come at a record pace. He passed Sammy Sosa last week for the franchise single-season record for whiffs in a single season, which now stands at 181. He is also likely to break the MLB rookie record in that regard. Bryant has made 16 errors, a high number for a third baseman. To his credit, he has improved dramatically in the field and with his technique.

Bryant credits manager Joe Maddon with handling the roster and playing time well for the entire team all season.

"Ever since the roster has expanded (in September), he has used different guys in different roles," Bryant said. "We have good players on the bench who could be starters on any other team. Getting proper days off is good for our bodies. That should help us be ready hopefully for a postseason run."

The Cubs seem to be the last team that opponents want to play at this crucial time of the season. The talented group can beat you with its bat, glove or arm. Bryant should be a big part of this multi-dimensional Cub club for the next decade.

"We are poised," Bryant said. "When the pitching isn't sharp, the hitting comes around. We really have been doing that (picking each facet up) all year. When the hitting has been down, the pitchers have picked us up. Whether it is good base-running or clutch hitting, we really have been doing those things all year. That is why we are at where we are at now."

No rookie is close to Bryant in offensive production, so he should be a runaway winner of the National League award. The Cubs have had five previous winners of the award: Williams (1961), Ken Hubbs (1962), Jerome Walton (1989), Kerry Wood (1998) and Geovany Soto (2008).

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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