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Kris Bryant: 'I'm hungrier than ever'

MESA, Ariz. -- Speaking publicly for the first time since being sent to minor league camp, Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant says he's disappointed in being demoted but motivated to reach the big leagues soon.

"I don't want to say I'm mad or anything, I'm just extremely disappointed," Bryant said Thursday. "I wanted my performance to matter, and to me it felt like it didn't matter as much as I thought it would.

"The dream is on hold for a little bit but I'm hungrier than ever."

"I'll use this as motivation and fuel the fire. I've been told a lot in my life I couldn't do it."

Kris Bryant

Bryant was the second overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft and led all Cactus and Grapefruit League hitters with nine home runs after hitting 43 last year as minor league player of the year.

"I was told it was a top-two spring training performance, which was cool to hear," Bryant said of his meeting with management. "There's been a lot of guys in this game; I'm just a rookie trying to make my way there. To hear that is something pretty special to me."

Bryant became the first player in at least a decade to lead spring hitters in home runs and not make an Opening Day roster. The Cubs gain an extra year of service out of Bryant before he becomes a free agent if he's in the minors for 11 days this season.

"I'm definitely learning it's a business," Bryant said. "I just go out there and put my head down and play as hard as I can. Baseball is such a performance-driven industry. I'm a big believer if you go out there and perform and work hard and you earn it then I believe you should get that chance to play up there. I guess it was viewed differently than I thought."

The Cubs say they told Bryant his performance did indeed matter.

"In this case it was the right thing to do," team president Theo Epstein said recently. "His performance really mattered, and he made a great first impression on Joe [Maddon]. It demonstrated clearly to everybody that he is really close to not just being in the big leagues but an important role on the team."

Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, was critical of the Cubs during the process, while the players' union even put out a statement on Bryant's behalf after he was sent down. Major League Baseball countered with one of their own, telling the union to butt out of Cubs business. In the middle of it all Bryant was on his way to hitting .425 this spring with a team-leading 15 RBIs.

"I'm new to this game," Bryant said. "I'm definitely learning a lot this spring training. I think I've handled it pretty well. I'll let Scott do his job, the union do their job and I just do my job on the field. That's all I can control."

Bryant was asked whether he's upset with the team.

"I don't want to talk about that right now," he responded. "When I put on a uniform it's an honor to play for this team.

"I'll use this as motivation and fuel the fire. I've been told a lot in my life I couldn't do it. I kind of go back to my high school days when people doubted me. It's OK to doubt me. I think I've done a pretty good job of keeping my head straight and really working hard. Just more motivation for me."

The Cubs don't doubt Bryant so much as it was just a smart business decision in their minds, though publicly they've given several baseball reasons as to why Bryant is starting the season in the minors.

"I've never put a guy on an Opening Day roster who hadn't played in the big leagues previously. In 13 years, I've never done it," Epstein said. "I'm not saying I'd never do it, but the general rule, the presumption, is to allow those guys to go out, play, get comfortable, get in rhythm, and come up when you handpick just the right moment for them to have success."

Bryant could have been the exception to the rule after garnering several awards since being drafted out of the University of San Diego where he won the Golden Spikes award as best amateur player. He won Arizona Fall League MVP months after being drafted, then player of the year in the minors last season when he hit a combined .325 with 43 home runs and 110 RBIs split between Double-A and Triple-A. Now he'll have to wait a little longer before finally making his major league debut.

"It's always been my dream to play in the big leagues," Bryant said. "It will definitely be an emotional time for me. It's definitely going to be exciting but I try to stay in the present moment. I feel like last year I had a pretty good performance and felt like maybe I did better than some guys that might be in the big leagues that got called up, but people do things differently. I'm here right now, in the present moment, looking forward to the future. It's just a weird time for me right now.

"I'm excited to see what comes out of me with this motivation. I've never been in this situation before. Maybe my game will go to another level."