CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 26: Anthony Rizzo #44 of the Chicago Cubs starts up the line after hitting a single during the first inning against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on June 26, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Prospect of the Day: Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs promoted first base prospect Anthony Rizzo from Triple-A Iowa yesterday, inserting him in the major league lineup. Bryan LaHair has hit quite well this spring, but he will move to the outfield to make room for Rizzo, who the Cubs see as a potential franchise cornerstone.
Rizzo was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the sixth round in 2007, from high school in Parkland, Florida. He got off to a great start in 2008, hitting .373/.402/.446 in 21 games for Low-A Greenville, but he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and missed the rest of the year. He beat the cancer quickly and recovered to hit .297/.368/.461 in A-ball in 2009. He hit just 12 homers, but proved his power chops with 42 doubles and 25 round-trippers in 2010, hitting .260/.334/.480 overall between High-A and Double-A, although he did see a spike in his strikeouts.
Rizzo was shipped west to the San Diego Padres in the December '10 Adrian Gonzalez trade. He hit .331/.404/.652 with 26 homers in 93 games for Triple-A Tucson last year, but struggled when promoted to the majors in June, hitting just .141/.281/.242 in 49 games. Traded to the Cubs for Andrew Cashner this past January, he hit .342/.405/.696 for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs this spring.
Rizzo has played 163 games in Triple-A, hitting .336/.405/.670 with 52 doubles, 49 homers, 163 RBI, 66 walks, and 141 strikeouts in 613 at-bats. Keep in mind, that's all in the Pacific Coast League, a hitting haven.
Rizzo is a 6-3, 220 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born August 8, 1989 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His key physical tool is obvious: he has tremendous raw power. Although error-prone, he is considered a very solid defensive first baseman with impressive range and a strong arm. Despite a relatively high error rate, his glove is considered to be a strength. On the other hand, he lacks speed and isn't someone you can stick in the outfield.
Scouts traced Rizzo's struggles with the Padres last year to problematic swing mechanics that left him vulnerable to above average fastballs. He reportedly developed some bad habits while playing in Tucson, which lengthening his swing and cost him bat speed. This year, Rizzo has worked to shorten his stroke, as shown in this Fangraphs piece by Eno Sarris which includes some video comparisons between this year and last.
Statistically, Rizzo's strikeout rate has gone down this year, with 52 whiffs in 284 Triple-A plate appearances (18%) compared to 89 in 413 (22%) last season. He's also improved his ability to handle left-handed pitching, posting a 1.030 OPS against them compared to just .721 last year.
Although scouts haven't forgotten what happened last year, they do report that his improvements this year are legitimate, and the numbers back this up. Certainly, Rizzo has nothing left to prove in Triple-A, and PCL pitchers had nothing more to teach him. Any further adjustments he needs to make will have to be accomplished against major league pitching. I don't think Rizzo is going to be a .300 hitter in the Show, but he should provide plenty of power, and has already shown he can overcome adversity.