Per Reader Request, here is a Prospect Smackdown between two Boston Red Sox first base prospects: Lars Anderson and Anthony Rizzo.
Background and Intangibles
Anderson: Anderson was drafted by the Red Sox in the 18th round in 2006, from high school in Carmichael, California. His draft position was deceptive: he was rated a late first round or supplemental round talent pre-draft, but fell due to his perceived bonus demands and a University of California commitment. He signed for an overslot $825,000 bonus. He performed well at the A-ball levels in '07 and '08, but struggled last year in Double-A. He righted the ship to some extent this year and is now on the major league roster. Anderson is a hard-worker and highly intelligent; some scouts believe he puts too much pressure on himself and overanalyzes things, prolonging trouble when he's in a slump.
Rizzo: Rizzo was drafted by the Red Sox in the sixth round in 2007, from high school in Parkland, Florida. He signed for $325,000, overslot for the round. He got off to a great start in 2008, hitting .373 in 21 games in Low-A, but came down with Hodgkin's lymphoma and missed the rest of the season for treatment. He worked hard at his rehab following cancer treatment, came back successfully in '09 and had another a solid season in Double-A in '10. He's considered a "gamer" with an excellent work ethic.
Advantage: Both Anderson and Rizzo are rated as hard-workers with good makeup. Anderson was more prominent as an amateur, but it took overslot money to sign both of them. Rizzo deserves credit for fighting back from cancer, while Anderson seems somewhat prone to self-doubt when struggling, although that has been less of a problem this year and I'd rather have a player who cares too much about his performance than too little. Overall, this is close to even but with a slight edge to Rizzo.
Physicality, Health, and Tools
Anderson: Anderson is a 6-4, 215 pounder, a left-handed hitter and thrower, born September 25, 1987. He lacks running speed and classic quickness, but has worked hard to turn himself into a workable defender at first base. Offensively, he has great strength in his frame and natural power, but hasn't fully tapped into it, at least in terms of hitting lots of home runs. He's worked to add loft to his swing, and he shows a good batting eye at the plate, although some scouts think he's too passive at times. He can be rather streaky and has problems with left-handed pitchers. His swing gets too mechanical when he's struggling. He's had some nagging injuries, including a wrist injury in '08 and a sore back and a bad hamstring last year, although he played through the injuries. The health problems may have impacted his performance in ‘09.
Rizzo: Rizzo is a 6-3, 220 pound left-handed hitter and thrower, born August 8th, 1989. His speed is well below average, although he can be aggressive on the bases and swiped 10 out of 11 this year. He has soft hands and a strong throwing arm, and is considered to be an above average defender at first base. Like Anderson, Rizzo is physically strong and has plenty of raw power, and he did a better job tapping into it this year, hitting 25 homers (after 12 last year) along with 42 doubles. His swing is consistently smooth. He has a good batting eye, but is also rated as too passive at times by some observers. He seemed to focus more on hitting for power this year, at the expense of batting average. He has problems against left-handed pitching. Aside from the cancer, Rizzo has been healthy.
Advantage: Both of them are left-handed sluggers with significant power potential, although Rizzo has tapped into his a bit more forcefully. Anderson is taller and thinner. Both lack running speed. Rizzo has softer hands and better defensive skills. Both draw walks but both are sometimes passive and strike out a lot. Both have problems with left-handed pitching. Anderson has had some minor health issues, but Rizzo's cancer was obviously a much bigger problem. I think it is a tie overall, although if you ignore Rizzo's cancer history you might give him a slight edge.
Anderson: Anderson entered '10 with a career line of .281/.380/.436, including a weak .233/.328/.345 performance in the Double-A Eastern League in '09. He returned to Portland this spring and was blistering early (.355/.408/.677), then moved up to Triple-A. He struggled initially at that level, but warmed up as the season progressed and was quite effective in July (.303/.367/.495) and August (.305/.370/.457). Overall, between Double-A and Triple-A this year he hit .274/.349/.461, with 51 walks and 125 strikeouts in 471 at-bats. His 2010 MLE is approximately .230/.295/.370. This is obviously inadequate for a first baseman.
Rizzo: Rizzo entered '10 with a career mark of .308/.373/.457 at the A-ball level. He began '10 with High-A Salem, hitting .248/.333/.479 in 29 games, then moved up to Double-A after Lars was promoted to Pawtucket. He hit .263/.334/.481 there, giving him a season line of .260/.334/.480, with 61 walks and 132 strikeouts in 531 at-bats. Rizzo's MLE for 2010 was approximately .215/.265/.364.
Advantage: Rizzo showed more distance power this year than Anderson, but was playing at a lower level. Their MLEs are almost identical, with Rizzo having a slight edge in Isolated Power, but Anderson doing better in the batting average and OBP departments. Based on these numbers, neither one of them are currently ready to play regularly as first basemen in the majors. It looks like a tie to me.
Anderson: Anderson is currently 22, turning 23 later this month. He's still young enough to develop substantially beyond where he currently is. Although I am no longer certain he will be a star-caliber player at first base, I still think he can be a very productive platoon player, along the lines of a Brian Daubach or Ben Broussard. If what he did in July and August at Pawtucket is an indication, Lars still has a chance to get beyond that.
Rizzo: Rizzo turned 21 last month and is almost two calendar years younger than Anderson. That gives him an edge on projection, although like Lars he still has work to do to adjust to higher-level pitching. There is a chance he can develop into something like Mo Vaughn if he fully reaches his peak, but he needs to solve lefties and could also end up as more of a platoon bat.
Advantage: Rizzo due to age, although neither one is a sure-fire star at this point.
I give Rizzo an edge on projection due to his age, a narrow slight edge on intangibles, and call it even on tools/health and current performance. Overall, I think I'd rate Rizzo as a Grade B/B- prospect and Anderson as a Grade B-/B. Both were rated as a Grade B- pre-season.