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Cubs highly touted prospect Kris Bryant draws a crowd

Updated: March 18, 2014 6:29AM

MESA, Ariz. – One year and a day after Kris Bryant opened his junior baseball season at the University of San Diego, he unpacked boxes at his locker Sunday in the Cubs’ spring training clubhouse – where he also happened to be the biggest-name, biggest-hope player in the room.

“It is a little different,’’ said the slugging third baseman the Cubs drafted with the No. 2 overall pick in June – who’s already the reigning MVP of the Arizona Fall League and top-10 prospect on 2014 rankings.

“I’ve never been the type to like all the attention,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys in here that have been here for a while, and the focus should be on them because they’re the ones that have been here, and I haven’t proven myself yet.”

The Cubs are counting on that process to be a thorough one, if not a speedy one.

Bryant, 22, has a chance to open the season at Class AA, and if his development this year looks anything like his four-month introduction to pro ball last year, he could wind up established at the AAA level by season’s end – if not knocking at the big-league door.

Bryant doesn’t seem to be looking any further down that road right now than figuring out where things in his new baseball home.

“I’m just out here trying to get better,” he said. “And I hope to do that.”

Bryant is good at downplaying his stature in the Cubs’ big, long-term plans. But he won’t be able to escape the attention. Even Sunday – three days before his first scheduled workouts – a perceptible buzz rose among media when he and outfield prospect Albert Almora showed up.

Bryant was quickly surrounded and asked about everything from whether he’s adamant about staying at third base (“right now I am”) to what the seventh-month pro had left to improve on (“everything”) to his thoughts on joining Almora and other core prospects as impact big-leaguers some day (“That would be cool, but there’s a lot of good [veteran] guys in this room right now… and we’re just trying to learn from them”).

If it all sounds like pretty heady stuff for a newbie, consider the other big strength the Cubs feel they have in the kid that led most college teams in home runs.

The finance major in college did well enough in school to get recruited to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship, and he plans to return to school to get his degree.

“I’ve got three years under my belt, and it’d be kind of silly not to,” said Bryant, who was too busy with classes and baseball, he said, to follow through with the Rhodes Scholar path. “It was a crazy process. … But it was an honor just to be invited to apply for that scholarship.”

Manager Rick Renteria said he and his staff plan to help the high-profile prospects – Almora also is in his first big-league camp – deal with the disproportionate attention and scrutiny they figure to get.

“You just talk to them,” he said. “We’ve all been through it. I was a first-rounder. I remember. The first question asked of me when I got to rookie league was how long before you get to the big leagues.”

Bryant isn’t even sure where he’ll be when the season opens. He barely knows where his locker is at this point.

But, he said, “I’m here. I’m ready to go.

“We’ll see what happens.”

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