Anthony Rizzo picked a really crummy time and place to obliterate AAA pitching.
The tidal wave of excitement surrounding Rizzo’s promotion is the product of many things, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with how reasonable minds believe he’ll perform this year at the big league level.
Rizzo was brought to the Cubs, essentially, in exchange for a very popular former first-round pick, Andrew Cashner. He was the first major acquisition by the new braintrust of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and his arrival was even more heralded since they were the guys who’d drafted him in the first place. Indeed, Hoyer had already acquired Rizzo once before. Clearly they loved this kid, and we loved them, so Rizzo was massively hyped before he’d even played a game for the Iowa Cubs.
You pile on top of that his absurdly good performance at AAA this year, the big team’s crappy season, and the long wait for the Rizzo promotion, and you’ve got a cauldron bubbling full of unreasonable expectations, ponderous hopes, and eye of newt.
I guess what I’m trying to say: pull it back, baby.
Even if Rizzo comes up and dominates, the 2012 Cubs are still going to lose a ton of games, and will, at times, be hard to watch. Rizzo’s arrival won’t change that. I’ll spare you the drama in saying things like “he’s not a savior,” because I suspect you’re smart enough to know that this season is beyond saving. But you’re going to have to remind yourself of this concept each time the Cubs lose a 10-2 clunker, and Rizzo goes 0 for 4.
Further, we have to keep in mind that Rizzo, right now, is just a prospect. He probably won’t come up and dominate.
Rizzo is a legitimately awesome prospect, but the history books are littered with legitimately awesome prospects who never reached their full potential in the big leagues (those books grew by scores in the Internet era). Even everyone’s greatest (realistic) hopes are realized, Rizzo will become a multiple-time All-Star, not a multiple-time MVP. If you told me today that Rizzo would put up a .280/.350/.525 line over the next eight years with the Cubs, I’d take it. He could do a little better, he could do a little worse, but that’s probably where you’re best served setting your hopes.
But you can, of course, be excited about Rizzo’s arrival. He is, indeed, one of the more exciting prospects to show up on the big club in a while, and sports fandom is about enjoying your team. It’s totally fair to enjoy “Anthony Rizzo Day.” (RizzOMG!)
And he really has obliterated AAA pitching. In 69 games this year at AAA Iowa, he was hitting .345/.408/.702 with 23 homers, 18 doubles, and 62 RBI. In 93 games at AAA last year, he hit .331/.404/.652 with 26 homers, 34 doubles, and 101 RBI. Combine those raw numbers, and you get 162 games at AAA, during which Rizzo hit 49 homers, 42 doubles, and drove in 163, all while OPSing over 1.050. Those aren’t just good numbers for a minor leaguer, good numbers for a first baseman, or good numbers for the PCL. They’re just flat out, ridiculously good numbers.
Did I mention that he was just 21 and 22 when he was doing that? That made him one of the youngest players in the league he was destroying. (I’m told he’s pretty slick with the glove, too.)
On that basis, the hype and expectations are deserved. Still, adjustment to the big leagues takes time, and he isn’t going to carry this team on his own this or any future year.
It will be fun to watch his progress, so long as you appropriately guard your expectations. The season is long, and Rizzo is young. He could immediately blow up and kill it the first week. Or, he could struggle, and look overmatched. In either case, you’ll have to remind yourself of the small sample size, and of the progress arc of a 22-year-old prospect.
I hope he reminds himself of that fact, too, as he’s swarmed by the media, or as he strikes out on an Aroldis Chapman fastball.
Keep your heart safe by remembering that Rizzo’s best years may yet be far ahead of him, and we’re still just watching him develop. Here’s hoping his development tracks that of the Cubs, and that his best years align with theirs.