In a season in which the Philadelphia Phillies have made Ryan Howard one of the richest first basemen in major league history, the unexpected has happened in the minor leagues: left-handed hitting first baseman Matthew Rizzotti has turned into a legitimate major league prospect.
Phillies fans will recall that Rizzotti was Philadelphia's fourth round pick in the 2007 draft. He is a lumbering giant of a player, standing 6'5" and weighing 235 pounds.
For whatever reason, the Phillies have brought Rizzotti along very slowly since drafting him. Rizzotti signed relatively immediately in 2007, and managed to play 63 games in low A-ball with Williamsport the year he was drafted. Rizzotti started 2008 in rookie ball before being quickly promoted to Single-A Lakewood, where he hit .268 with 10 home runs, but also posted an impressive .380 on-base percentage.
In 2009, the now 23 year-old Rizzotti spent an entire season at High-A Clearwater, where he hit only .263 with 13 home runs and 58 RBI in 101 games. His .806 OPS and 159 total bases were unimpressive, and landed him an encore performance in Clearwater in 2010.
And that, perhaps, has made all the difference.
In his first 31 games this season at Clearwater, Rizzotti hit .358 with a .903 OPS, numbers that came seemingly out of no where. He raised his slugging percentage over 20 points despite hitting only one home run, which indicated that he had become a more patient and versatile hitter.
But the real excitement, and the reason Matthew Rizzotti is suddenly on everyone's radar, has developed since he was promoted to Double-A Reading. In just 41 games, Rizzotti is hitting .385 with a shocking 1.132 OPS, 10 home runs, and 14 doubles. All of this was good enough for Rizzotti to be named Minor League Player of the Month for the month of May.
One year after putting up modest numbers against High-A ball pitchers, Rizzotti is dominating Double-A pitchers.
So what is the meaning of all of this?
There is simply no room at the major league level for Matthew Rizzotti with the Phillies. Ryan Howard is the Phillies' first baseman of the past, present, and future, and Rizzotti doesn't have the athleticism to move to the outfield. If anything, he needs to move from first base to designated hitter, as he has done for 38 of his 72 total games this season.
That means he is trade bait. And he may be peaking at just the right time.
Could the Phillies get some pitching help in exchange for the new hottest bat in Double-A? Rizzotti is a prototypical American League first baseman/DH, the kind that Billy Beane loves to snag cheaply for the Oakland A's (see Jack Cust, Scott Hatteberg, Daric Barton, Jake Fox). Rizzotti is also the type of player that might be a good fit for Theo Epstein's Boston Red Sox, Peter Angelos' Baltimore Orioles, or Kenny Williams' Chicago White Sox.
And, there is a certain offense-starved team in Seattle that has a certain pitcher that all of Philadelphia loves, and that could use a high-average, high-on-base masher at the DH-spot.
The Philadelphia Phillies have a legitimate major league prospect in Matthew Rizzotti. Hopefully, someday, we'll all remember him as a guy we traded as part of the package to get the pitcher we needed to get back to the World Series for the third year in a row.
Asher B. Chancey lives in Philadelphia and is a co-founder of BaseballEvolution.com .