Cubs’ Ross to use slugger Bryant as leadoff man

    Jesse joined ESPN Chicago in September 2009 and covers the Chicago Cubs for and ESPN Radio 1000.

MESA, Ariz. — New Chicago Cubs manager David Ross wasted no time in making his first big decision, announcing Kris Bryant as his leadoff man even before playing a game.

“You’ll see him at the top of the order a whole lot in spring training,” Ross said Wednesday. “Kris Bryant is a really good at-bat, gets-on-base [hitter], is probably one of our best baserunners. His baseball IQ is extremely high. When you talk about putting the best players at the top of the order, I want to put him at the top.”

Bryant is on board, having hit leadoff in college after teams stopped pitching to him in the middle of the University of San Diego order.

The Cubs ranked last in the majors in on-base percentage (.294) from the No.1 spot in the batting order last season, after ranking first in the NL in 2018. Ross intends on giving Bryant, who has a career .385 OBP, a long leash.

“That was part of the conversation we had,” Ross said. “This is a commitment on his part. It’s really easy to change the lineup in my seat but I think that screams panic when you start to change all that. This is one of the best players in baseball, and how he goes about his business, I want representing our team night in and night out. He’s on board with that.”

The leadoff position has been a spot of contention for the Cubs since Dexter Fowler left the team via free agency after the 2016 season. They’ve ranked 18th, 2nd and 30th in on-base percentage since then, but no one person has excelled for a full season. Kyle Schwarber famously bombed in that spot in 2017; Ben Zobrist did a good job at the top when he played there the following season. The Cubs bottomed out last year with Jason Heyward, Zobrist and others getting reps.

“That leadoff spot has been a real thing around here since Dexter left,” Ross said. “I know it’s going to be a story and a thing and a lot of attention is going to be paid to it. It always has, so I want to make sure I cover all my bases before I commit to something.”

There’s a good chance Anthony Rizzo will bat behind Bryant, giving the Cubs two sluggers who get on base at the top of the order.

“The dynamic of KB and Rizz behind him is a good 1-2 punch at the top,” Ross said.

The move will reduce opportunities for Bryant to drive in runs as he heads toward free agency in two years. Ross says giving up stats for the team will set a great example.

“The players that are committed to winning, contracts take care of themselves,” the manager said. “The goal here is to win. … He’s all in.”

Bryant, 28, is 9-for-28 with a walk and a .387 on-base percentage in seven games hitting leadoff in his career, but this will be the first time it’ll be his job to keep.

“I would hate to be on the other side and look at that big boy step in the box to lead things off and what he can do,” Ross said. “I like professional at-bats. To start it off and set the tone for what we’re going to do, KB is a great option.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about long and hard.”

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