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Friday, August 19

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Cubs Wed Sep 12 2012

Cubs Building Blocks: Anthony Rizzo

Cubs_200.pngBeing a first base prospect nowadays is impossibly hard. With pitching and defense being so prominent at the major league level, guys that profile for the position are judged almost solely by the amount of times they can clear the fence. If you play elite defense, scouts might cut you a slight break. And by slight, I mean they'll rate you as a high value prospect so long as you can still hit 30-plus home runs.

The reason is simple -- being the easiest and lowest valued defensive position on the field, teams would allow guys to play it with an oven mitt and a blind fold if it meant 40 homers. Anthony Rizzo lacks that elite-type of power, but does just about everything he can to make up for it with his glove.

Having a stud first basemen that can hit for average, power, and play above average defense is rare these days. Albert Pujols and Joey Votto are still the poster boys for the position, and Adrian Gonzalez still has to be considered despite power outage this season, but other than that, the position is desolate for an automatic All-Star starter. Anthony Rizzo may be that guy.

Sure, defense isn't valued highly at first base, but imagine if a butcher like Prince Fielder was manning the position like many Cubs fans hoped he would. How many more errors would Starlin Castro have on throws that Rizzo dug out? Eight? 12? Who knows, but I'm sure nobody in the Cubs organization is in a hurry to find out.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer held Rizzo in Triple-A Iowa until the end of June for a number of reasons. They wanted him to have a full season worth of minor league at-bats (he missed out on reaching that in 2011 because of an early call-up by the Padres), wanted to be sure he was fully comfortable with the swing adjustments the team made, and also wanted to hold his long-term cost to the organization down by backing up his first arbitration hearing by a year.

Rizzo finished his Iowa campaign hitting .342 with 23 homers and 52 RBIs while drawing some walks and striking out in less than 20% of his plate appearances. All fantastic numbers (even for a hitters paradise that is the Pacific Coast League), and the expectations in Chicago were high for a powerful impact.

For the most part, Rizzo has lived up to the impossible standards. He's hitting just shy of .300 with 12 homers in just six more at-bats then what he had at Iowa. Combining the home run totals would put him tied for sixth in the majors, and lead all full time first basemen. But simply adding the numbers is worthless in terms of predictive value. Translate his homers in the Major Leagues this season over a full 162 games, and you get roughly 28 homers. That number is right in line with what many in baseball think he is: a 30-homer first basemen who saves some runs in the field with his glove.

It's amazing the Cubs were able to get Rizzo in the first place. His star had only dimmed slightly with his poor showing in the big leagues last year (hey, Mike Trout sucked in the majors last year too), but the Cubs were able to snag him for Andrew Cashner, a guy who get throw 100, but only if his arm stays attached to his body.

Rizzo will be in a Cubs uniform for years. Let's just hope the amount of losing (or pain) he'll have to endure over the next 18 months doesn't affect his development.

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