So some dude named Anthony Rizzo will make his Cubs debut tonight at Wrigley against the New York Mets. The 22 year-old, 6’3″, 220-lb first baseman has been tearing up AAA Iowa with a triple slash of .342/.405/1.101 through 70 games and to more than a few Cubs fans, should’ve made the big league club immediately after spring training. However, the Cubs were never expected to be serious contenders, and Rizzo was banished to the minor leagues to refine his game.
And now, the Chosen One will grace us with his presence. He is undoubtedly the top prospect in the Cubs farm system, and the best prospect at the position since Hee-Seop Choi. Disregard Rizzo’s poor showing during his brief cup of coffee last season with his former team, the San Diego Padres. New Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, who held the same position with the Padres this time last year, admitted to not putting Rizzo in the best position to succeed. I’m sure there was pressure among the Padres faithful to see the young slugger, and you’d better believe the pressure from most of the Cubs fanbase far exceeds that. Rizzo put up better numbers with the Cubs AAA affiliate than he did with the Padres, and I’d like to believe another year of professional experience has made him a better all-around player.
With that being written, anyone who expects Rizzo to singlehandedly resuscitate this near-morbid Cubs franchise should lay off the hardcore drugs. In fact, I’m not at all fond of the slurping that has already commenced. I get it: Rizzo has been great, and there’s sure to be optimism. Modern-day Major League baseball is just as much about promising prospects as it is proven veterans. Stockpile your farm system with top-notch players, and you’re setting yourself up for mounds of future success, given they pan out, of course.
And still, I refuse to buy into the Rizzo hype just yet. Scrap his minor league production and let sensibility–and a good memory–prevail. Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Hee-Seop Choi, Bobby Brownlie, Brooks Kieschnick, Kevin Orie, Lou Montanez…all first-round picks who were highly touted and either completely flopped or didn’t quite maximize their potential. I’m aware that this “new regime” hand-picked Rizzo when they weren’t employed by the Cubs, and that’s reason enough for many Cubs fans to believe that Rizzo is the real deal. Yet, I would rather wait to see what he does when going up against legitimate MLB players, and not AAAers, who are mostly a bit too old to play in the more talent-filled AA, but not quite good enough to be promoted to the ML level.
Could Rizzo anchor the first base position for the next 10-15 seasons? He certainly could. Rizzo could make Mark Grace an afterthought by the time his playing career is over, especially if the Cubs win a World Series title or 8 by the time he hangs his spikes up. It’s just…the unbridled and excessive excitement over his promotion irks me. The Cubs are so far from being “a player away”, it hurts. Literally. So while a part of me understands the joy of having a shiny new toy to play with, more of me wants to be proven that it can withstand a lot of abuse. And Cubs fans, like the franchise itself, can be a very rough handler.