By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Anthony Rizzo, First Baseman, Chicago Cubs
2012 season: 87 G, 337 AB, .285 BA, 15 HR, 48 RBI, 44 R, .805 OPS
When Anthony Rizzo was called up during the 2011 season, many thought great things awaited him. Once a touted prospect in the Red Sox’s system, Rizzo was included in the trade for Adrian Gonzalez and was supposed to take his place in the Padres’ lineup. His minor league numbers were impressive – Rizzo hit .331 with a 1.056 OPS at Triple-A in 2011 – but the youngster struggled mightily in the Majors, batting just .141 with a single homer and a .523 OPS in 49 games.
Then, Rizzo was traded again. This time, he was sent to the Cubs in exchange for pitcher Andrew Cashner. Rizzo changed his swing following the trade, shortening up his stroke a bit, and saw positive results. He again dominated in the minors, hitting .342 with a 1.101 OPS in 70 Triple-A games, but then fared well in the big leagues as well. Batting cleanup for the Cubs, Rizzo provided the offensive production that had long been expected of him.
One reason for (or symptom of) Rizzo’s improvement was his much lower strikeout rate. After fanning 30.1% of the time with the Padres, he cut that down to 18.3% with the Cubs’ Triple-A team and then to 16.8% with the big club. He only drew 27 walks in 87 games – his walk rate dropped from 13.7% with the Padres to 7.3% with the Cubs – but that’s still a reasonable number of free passes for a then-22-year-old.
Rizzo destroyed righties, batting .318 with an .892 OPS, but suffered against lefties: he posted just a .208 average and .599 OPS against southpaws. That’s not a surprise given the nature of platoon splits, but it’s an area that will need some improvement if Rizzo is going to fulfill his potential. Luckily, the Cubs are committed to playing him every day, so he’ll receive every opportunity to adjust to left-handers.
One thing that’s almost certain about Rizzo is that he will play very good defense. Scouts rave about his range and instincts at first base, and defensive metrics also rate him highly. In terms of offense, Rizzo is likely to hit for a strong average with 30+ home run power. Down the line, he has the potential to be one of the best offensive players in the league – someone who can hit for average, draw walks and hit the ball out of the park, like Paul Konerko or Joey Votto. The Cubs probably won’t be great this year, but Rizzo could become the face of the franchise as it rebuilds into a contender.
Next up on March 22: Milwaukee Brewers