How Giants plan to take advantage of Bryant's versatility


After he had dropped his stuff off in the clubhouse, met local reporters, taped a video for the Giants' in-house media group, and attended a hitters' meeting, Kris Bryant finally grabbed a glove. He spent a few minutes Sunday morning taking grounders from bench/infield coach Kai Correa, alternating with Evan Longoria. Then, Bryant walked out to the grass with Antoan Richardson and Alyssa Nakken, who coach the outfielders.

It was an early look at what's to come over the final two months. 

In Bryant, the Giants acquired a middle-of-the-order bat and a former National League MVP, but also a super-utility man. Bryant started 26 games at third with the Cubs this season, 24 in right, 20 in left and 10 each in center field and at first base. He is one of the most versatile players in the league and he's now joining a team that values that trait more than most. 

"I think he's very comfortable moving around the diamond, I think he's very comfortable moving in-game, something that I know the Cubs were comfortable doing with him, and he performed quite well," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We're probably not going to change course all that much. The way Kris Bryant was successful in Chicago, I think he'll also be successful in San Francisco if we kind of stay the course there."

Bryant made his first start at third base, and that's where the Giants have the biggest hole right now, with Longoria not set to return when eligible to come off the 60-day IL on Thursday. Wilmer Flores has been a very strong fill-in, but the Giants never intended for him to play third every day. Bryant playing third pushes Flores or Donovan Solano or Darin Ruf to the bench, and that's where the permutations get really exciting for Kapler. 

For years, the Giants watched the Dodgers come to town and shift Cody Bellinger from first to center freely, and move Kiké Hernandez and Chris Taylor from the infield to outfield as they made double switches and used pinch-hitters. The Giants tried to find similar versatility in Mauricio Dubon, but he is back in the minors. 

There are plenty of versatile pieces on the roster -- including Flores, Thairo Estrada and LaMonte Wade Jr. -- but Bryant is in a different class, and he'll make the Giants even more dangerous late in games. 

Kapler already uses more pinch-hitters than any of the other 29 managers, but he can now do so knowing that Bryant can handle five different positions defensively, covering gaps. It's not just that Bryant can do it, it's that he wants to do it. One of the things that stood out in his initial conversation with Farhan Zaidi was the desire to stay versatile. 

"I enjoy doing it," Bryant said Sunday. "I enjoy moving around the field. I enjoy patching a hole when a guy is hurt or when a guy needs a day off or there's a tough matchup or whatever it may be. I enjoy being that player that moves around the field."

There are limitations, of course. Advanced metrics have Bryant as league average or a tick below at all those spots, and he did make a throwing error in his debut. But the Giants have generally prioritized going for it at the plate over keeping their best defense out there, and Bryant will help them do that. 

"It allows us to use our bench more effectively knowing that we can enter anybody into the game and be able to cover all the positions on the field," Kapler said. 

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That versatility made Bryant the perfect fit, and it will keep him busy, something he's thrilled about. He will do most of his work at third for now, but when asked how he ranks his positions, he smiled and glanced out at the outfield.

"I love playing center field, center field is just so fun to me," he said. "I don't know why. It's just the angle of the ball coming off the bat and running out there, and you have the whole outfield to yourself. It's pretty cool, but honestly I'll play anywhere."

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