6/23 Rizzo watch
In late April, I went to Des Moines to watch Triple-A Iowa play. I was talking to one of the Cubs coaches, and the topic was Anthony Rizzo. The first baseman was getting rave reviews on his defensive work, on his pre-game routine, on his hitting. Was Rizzo ready for the big leagues? The coach said: “The only problem will be you.”
He didn’t mean me personally, but the media. The hype surrounding Rizzo’s potential call-up has been off the charts. I’m surprised no one has interviewed his grade school teacher in Ft. Lauderdale, although that story could be coming Sunday. When Rizzo was promoted to the Padres last June, he was batting .365 at Triple-A Tucson. He struggled in the big leagues, batting .143 in 35 games, and was sent back to the Minor Leagues. When he was recalled in September, he batted .133 in 14 games. GM Jed Hoyer blamed himself, saying Rizzo faced high expectations when promoted, and still needed time to develop.
Moving Bryan LaHair to the outfield for the White Sox series was a sign that Rizzo is close. When? Theo Epstein wants to make sure the timing is right.
“You have to look at what happened last year,” Epstein said. “[Rizzo] had great numbers and was rushed a little bit and came up and struggled so its important to put players in position to succeed, and always put your Major League club in position to succeed. … Those things you don’t want to rush into, there’s more to development than numbers.”
Dale Sveum has been checking Rizzo’s stats and video all year. The first baseman has lowered his hands, and gotten better results. On Friday, Rizzo missed hitting for the cycle by home run, going 3-for-5 with three RBIs. He’s batting .355 overall, including .384 with runners in scoring position. Against lefties, he’s batting .338 (25-for-74), and against right-handers, he’s batting .362 (63-for-174). He has 23 homers, 18 doubles and 62 RBIs. Wouldn’t those numbers look good in the Cubs lineup?
Rizzo is very polished, very poised for a 22-year-old (he turns 23 Aug. 8). He’s going to be the center of attention, and every at-bat, every strikeout, every hit will be dissected and discussed. Nothing can prepare him for that. He’s not the savior; he’s a very talented first baseman with a ton of potential who could be one of the building blocks for Theo Epstein’s foundation for sustained success.
That’s Kerry Wood in the center of the media scrum at his retirement announcement above. I remember the build up surrounding Wood when he was promoted in ’98. The expectations soared after his 20-strikeout game in his fifth Major League start. The only Cubs player I can recall being more hyped than Rizzo was Mark Prior. Rizzo already has his first Major League hit and home run, collecting those firsts with the Padres last year. If he gets off to a slow start, will fans and the media be patient? Ryne Sandberg did not get a hit in his first six games with the Cubs.
When the Cubs call the first baseman up, they want it to be for good. Here’s hoping the timing is right, and I’m not a problem.
— Carrie Muskat