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Monday, December 4

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Cubs Tue Jun 26 2012

Silver Lining Alert: Cubs Promote Rizzo

Cubs_200.pngSix months ago, Cubs fans hadn't a clue who Anthony Rizzo was. And why should they have? He wasn't even a part of the organization at that point.

In the first major move of the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime, the Cubs traded Andrew Cashner to the Padres for a player that Hoyer knew well. He drafted Rizzo in the 6th round in 2007 as Epstein's assistant in Boston, traded slugger Adrian Gonzalez for him while the GM in San Diego, and acquired his services for a third time this winter after reuniting with Theo in Chicago.

And now, the time has come for that unyielding commitment to be repaid. Rizzo, the team's top prospect, will make his Cubs debut on Tuesday at Wrigley Field against the Mets.

Over the past few seasons, the Cubs have let their power hitting corner infielders (Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez) walk away when their contracts were up - mainly because of their age. The only problem was, the team lacked readymade replacements to fill the voids. The new guys recognized this issue, and they traded for one immediately.

Let's get one thing straight. Anthony Rizzo is not, and shall not be seen as the savior for the 2012 Chicago Cubs season. They have the worst record in all of baseball, and it takes more than a single player to turn that brand of stink into something palatable.

That being said, it's very much OK to get excited about his call up - and to be honest, it's hard not to be. Rizzo was leading the Pacific Coast League with a .345 average, 23 homers, and 65 RBIs.

With crazy numbers like that, many were clamoring for Rizzo to come to the majors far sooner than this, but the team made the right move for a few reasons. By holding him down in the minors until now, Rizzo's potential free agency is now pushed back another full year, from 2017 to 2018 - which if he becomes what the team is hoping (a cornerstone of the franchise), it'll save the team many millions of dollars. No reason to waste money on a lost season. But the main rationale for keeping him in Triple-A for so long has to do with a previous mistake.

Last year, Hoyer rushed the then 21-year-old to the majors in San Diego after he tore up the high minors in similar fashion. The problem was, the Padres minor league stadium was a bandbox that allowed Rizzo to fall into a few bad habits (mainly a long, loopy swing, according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus), which eventually led to his awful .523 OPS in his shot in the majors.

Management stayed patient with Rizzo this year, and he's now got himself locked in a routine that is proving successful at keeping his swing short and on plane. If he reaches his potential, many believe he could be a 30-homer first basemen who can get on base and play outstanding defense -- a combination of strengths only a small number of major leaguers can lay claim to.

But those stats shouldn't be expected this year, or even next year. Rizzo is only 22, and will need time to grow, make mistakes, and fix them. The team is committed to batting him in the middle of the order, and playing him at first base every day - even with left-handers on the mound. Compare that to past prospects that Jim Hendry and crew jerked out of the lineup after a few 0-for-4's, and you should be thankful for progress.

And in a season where wins and losses don't matter, progress is all you can hope for.

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