All eyes will be on Kris Bryant this spring. Every swing within view on a practice field and every Cactus League plate appearance will be under the public microscope. For the Cubs, Bryant exists as the most critical component to correcting the offensive landslide that occurred last year.
During Cubs Convention last month, Bryant dispelled any lingering notion that his good friend Bryce Harper might be coming to the North Side when he proclaimed with a smile: "He's not signing here." So, without a major addition joining Chicago's lineup, much of the focus will be trained on Bryant and his return from the left-shoulder injury that robbed him of his National League MVP Award-caliber power last summer.
With Spring Training looming, Bryant insisted that his shoulder and swing are in good health.
"I feel very strong," Bryant said. "I can't say enough about how good I feel."
While the Cubs would have preferred to play deep into October, one silver lining beneath the early-exit sting was the ability to give Bryant the rest he required. No offseason surgery was necessary and the star third baseman was able to resume his hitting program in early December under the watchful eye of his father, Mike Bryant, in Las Vegas. Cubs personnel were able to check in with Bryant during the Winter Meetings.
So far, so good on that front, but the real tests start arriving later this month. Position players will report to Mesa, Ariz., for Spring Training on Sunday, Feb. 17, with the first full-squad workout on the following day. The Cactus League slate begins on Feb. 23 against the Brewers, who claimed the NL Central crown in a Game 163 showdown with the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
The Brewers deserve all the credit for their incredible season-ending hot streak to win the division, but there is no denying that the Cubs' lineup did them no favors down the stretch. It was a team-wide problem over the second half, which included Bryant missing all of August and not looking like himself when he was able to step into the batter's box.