The Chicago Cubs might not win the World Series as often as the New York Yankees or St. Louis Cardinals, but they still have a history that rivals any other in Major League Baseball. That’s what makes the milestone Kris Bryant reached during Wednesday’s game mighty impressive.
Three years to the day that Bryant hit his first MLB home run at Miller Park in Milwaukee, the Cubs third baseman slugged No. 100 in his career in Chicago’s 13-4 win against the Marlins at Wrigley Field. In doing so, Bryant became the fastest Cubs player ever to reach 100 homers in terms of games played. Bryant reached 100 homers in 487 games. That bested Cubs Hall of Famers Ernie Banks (500) and Billy WIlliams (611).
The feat cements Bryant as one of the biggest power threats in MLB today, alongside other stars like Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. It also begs this question: Just how many home runs could Kris Bryant potentially hit before his career is over?
One of the best barometers given Bryant’s age and production might actually be Ernie Banks. The man known as “Mr. Cub” hit 512 career home runs during his legendary career, with each and every one coming in a Cubs uniform. To this point, 500-515 seems like a reasonable bar for Bryant, but perhaps we can find a path to a higher number.
Banks got a slight headstart on Bryant, debuting as a 22-year-old in 1953. By the end of his age 23 season he’d hit 21 total homers in 164 games. As for Bryant, he debuted as a 23-year-old in 2015, and would go on to win National League Rookie of the Year after hitting .275/.369/.488 with 26 homers and 99 RBIs in 151 games.
Things get a little more interesting though following the age 24 season for each player. At that point, both had hit 65 career homers. Following their age 25 season, Bryant was at 94 home runs while Banks was at 93.
It’s obviously a different game now than it was 65 years ago. Strikeouts were not as prevalent in those days. Banks, for example, only reached 100 strikeouts one time during his career. Bryant led MLB with 199 in 2015, and has added another 282 since. There were also no such things as launch angle readings to clue players in on how to adjust their swings for increased power.
When you factor in the changes in philosophy and statistical analysis, chances are they end up offsetting each other and again make Banks’ pace one that could easily apply to Bryant’s career arc. The next big question(s) then might revolve around Bryant’s durability and longevity. Banks played in 2,528 games over 19 seasons, and hit 93 home runs after the age of 35.
To this point, Bryant has been durable. He’s played in at least 151 games in each of his first three seasons. He’s a bigger man than Banks at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds. But he’s also arguably a more versatile athlete. When it comes time for Bryant to change positions like Banks did late in his career, he should be able to handle it. All of those things play in Bryant’s favor, and there’s no reason to believe his power will decrease over time.
With that said, is it possible Bryant hangs around and challenges for 550 or even 600 home runs?
Yes, it’s possible. However, suggesting Bryant or anyone is a lock for 400 homers, let alone 500 or 600 or anything beyond is obviously a stretch. A lot would have to go right for that to happen, and baseball’s not exactly a game that lends itself to things going right or as expected. The not knowing though is what makes looking ahead all the more fun and interesting.
What we do know is that at age 26, Bryant already has several remarkable achievements on his résumé. We noted his Rookie of the Year award in 2015. He followed that up with an MVP season in 2016. More importantly, he was part of the franchise’s first World Series victory in 108 years. It’s fun to talk about home runs and Hall of Fame chances, but Bryant has already cemented a notable legacy in both Cubs and MLB history.
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