Anthony Rizzo: 4 Things We Already Learned About the Cubs' Stud in MLB
In the midst of one of the Cubs' most forgettable seasons in recent memory, the call up of top prospect Anthony Rizzo has helped reinvigorate the Cubs fan base.
The early promise he's shown has fans and the Cubs front office imagining a day in the not-so-far future when the team's fortune may change.
His short tenure with the big league club in Chicago has demonstrated Theo Epstein and Cubs' management have handled his development well thus far, and his on-field performance has highlighted some unexpected strengths and a few areas of concern moving forward.
His Time in AAA Was Well Spent
In his first major league stint last season with the San Diego Padres, Anthony Rizzo's numbers were nothing to write home about.
Over 128 at-bats (153 plate appearances), Rizzo batted .141, with an on-base of .281, and a slugged .242, while only hitting one home run. Hardly the kinds of numbers one might expect from a potential franchise player.
With this performance in the back of his mind, new Cubs GM Theo Epstein stood firm in his stance that he would not rush Rizzo's promotion from AAA Iowa. Even with the team tanking early in the season, the Cubs seemed in no hurry to move up their top prospect.
In mid April, Epstein spoke with the Chicago Sun Times, explaining:
"Those guys are continuing their development at Triple-A, and things that they’re working on, they need to continue to improve."
Eventually, Rizzo's stat line of .342 BA, .405 OBP, .696 SLG, and 26 homers was simply too much to ignore.
In the 21 games since his call-up, Rizzo has posted four home runs while hitting .329 and slugging .524. While it delayed his ascent from prospect to franchise savior, the extra minor league at-bats clearly helped Rizzo refine his swing and adjust to the better pitching he will see in the majors.
He Is Level Headed
The 2012 MLB season has introduced us to many of the game's potential future stars, namely Anthony Rizzo, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and, of course, Bryce Harper.
In their short time in the big leagues, some of these guys (Harper) have played with the kind of flash and bravado that annoys opposing players and managers, and others have simply gone about their business. While there isn't anything wrong with either approach, baseball is a game of failure, and snapping your bat over your knee isn't the best way to cope.
Cubs Manager Dale Sveum has noted Rizzo's approach, telling the Boston Herald:
"Rizzo is the ultimate professional. He goes about his business and does a lot of good things on and off the field. . . . You see those superstars throughout the league, and they all have that same demeanor. That’s a part of his game that’s going to help him the most — the attitude he brings to the field every day."
Signs of maturity are always welcomed when charting the development of a young player, and Rizzo has impressed in his short tenure in Chicago.
He Needs Work Against Southpaws
For any lefty prospect, some of the biggest trouble in assimilating to the game's highest level comes when facing southpaws.
Against righties this season, Rizzo is batting .377/.421/.547, but has struggled against lefty pitching—in 29 at-bats, his stat line is .241/.241/.483.
In Triple-A Iowa this season, he was .356/.421/.712 against right-handers and .313/.368/.663 against lefties, so the sizable difference in the majors shouldn't surprise.
The low numbers could, in part, be attributable to the small sample size, but he needs to work on his plate approach against southpaws in order to be a feared MLB threat. No middle-of-the-order hitter wants the reputation of being easily neutralized by a lefty specialist.
He's Cutting Down His K's
While in AAA Iowa, Rizzo struck out 52 times in 257 at-bats, yielding a strikeout rate of 20.23 percent.
Through his 82 at-bats in 2012 in Chicago, he has only seven K's, producing a surprisingly low strike out rate of 8.5 percent.
Contrast this with his brief time with the San Diego Padres, where he struck out in nearly 36 percent of his at-bats (46 K's in 128 AB's).
As the season wears on, he will likely regress to a more pedestrian K rate, but his current production only signals good things for the future.