Monday, June 3, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Three years ago, Bonanza High slugger Kris Bryant was considered a Major League Baseball first-round talent.
He could have signed a contract to professional baseball and developed in some town he was shipped to as part of his minor league journey.
Instead, Bryant opted to go to the University of San Diego for three years, knowing it was a place where he could mature in a controlled environment around people who are going through similar experiences. Telling scouts in 2010 that he’d likely attend college, he slipped to the 18th round, where he was picked by the Toronto Blue Jays.
“At the time, I thought I was ready. I really wasn’t,” Bryant said. “You really grow up in college. You have to learn how to make your own food and do your own laundry.
“I don’t know how minor league ball works, but I know how college works. I’ve been here with some of the greatest people in one of the greatest cities. It’s been a great time for me.”
The decision paid off.
Bryant’s draft stock has raised substantially because of his collegiate career, especially this spring when he was named the Louisville Slugger Player of the Year and was a first-team All-America selection.
Bryant is projected as a top-3 draft pick in Thursday’s First-Year Player Draft. Sports Illustrated has Bryant going No. 1 overall to the Houston Astros, while ESPN has the third baseman going to the Colorado Rockies at No. 3.
Bryant admitted he hasn’t been paying attention to what scouts or the media are saying about his draft status.
To him, it’s always been a simple thing: be awesome, help your team win games, and the draft takes care of itself.
Bryant has done that and more.
In 2013, San Diego qualified for its second consecutive NCAA Regional behind Bryant’s .340 average and 31 home runs in the regular season. Bryant also is in the running for the Golden Spikes award, which is given to the best amateur baseball player in the country. Bryce Harper won the award in 2010.
Bryant was invited to attend the draft but declined because he wants to spend the day with his family and friends.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s part of the game. I’m just thankful that I’m getting the attention.”
Bonanza coach Derek Stafford wasn’t surprised by Bryant’s ascension into being one of baseball’s prized prospects. Stafford saw Bryant grow exponentially during his four years in his program and added that the extra three years of college ball took Bryant to the next level.
“Every year, he was great,” Stafford said. “From freshman to senior year, he got better.”
At San Diego, he was a freshman All-American in 2011, batting .365 with nine home runs, 36 RBIs and 57 runs scored. Last year during his sophomore season, Bryant led San Diego in seven offensive categories in being named a first-team All-American. He belted 14 home runs with 59 runs and 57 RBIs.
Yes, attending college definitely was the right path for Bryant.
“It’s going to prove tenfold that it was the right decision,” Stafford said. “The minor leagues aren’t as glamorous as the majors. It’s a grind. You’re riding buses, and it’s a lot of work. (After going to college), he can probably advance (through the minors) quickly. I’ve heard he could be up in the majors by September.”
While being drafted in the top 3 picks will likely bag Bryant a lot of money (the top pick is slotted for a little more than $7 million, while the No. 3 pick will net around $5 million), Bryant still plans to finish his finance degree.
He has roughly a year left of classes to reach that goal.
“I’m not going to throw away three years of an education,” he said. “It’s something I’ve taken pride in. It would be silly not to finish.”