Before he was posting an OPS of .805 for the Chicago Cubs, Anthony Rizzo was a prospect in Iowa. That means he is eligible for the Prospects’ Progress treatment. Joining Rizzo today will be a young lefty you’ve probably never heard of. Say hello to Carlos A. Rodriguez.
As a reminder, Prospects’ Progress is not a prospect ranking or Top Anything list. This in an ongoing series that take a look at how various prospect in the Cubs’ system improved (or didn’t) over the past season and considers what me might be able to expect from them in the future.
Or, as in the case of Rizzo, what we can continue to expect now that the future has arrived.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
The Cubs paid a high price for Anthony Rizzo. Andrew Cashner, perhaps the Cubs’ best pitching prospect, was sent to San Diego in exchange for the slugging left handed first baseman. Unfortunately, Rizzo was coming of a disappointing debut for the Padres. In 49 games as a 21 year old, Rizzo managed to post an OPS of just .523.
There were frequent reports that Rizzo had retooled his swing over the winter, but we still needed to see results. In short, Rizzo came into the 2012 season needing to prove that he could be the first baseman of the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet your first baseman of the future. Any doubts about Rizzo’s new, shorter swing were buried beneath an avalanche of line drives and long balls in Iowa. In just 70 games for the Triple A Cubs Rizzo hit 23 home runs… it felt like about twice that… and slugged nearly .700 on his way to simply crushing the league. The Pacific Coast League is known as a hitters’ league, but even in the PCL a 22-year-old is not supposed to post an OPS of 1.101 over 70 games.
And then he went to Chicago. In between the sorts of rough stretches and dry spells we expect from any young hitter Rizzo compiled an OPS+ of 119. His season ending line of .285/.342/.463 put an end to any questions about first base for the foreseeable future.
Rizzo still has some room to improve. He has not hit consistently over a full major league season yet (in no small part because he has not played a full major league season yet). Pitchers will be adjusting to him and finding new ways to exploit his swing throughout the 2013 season, and it will be up to Rizzo to make all the necessary adjustments. In addition to that, the Cubs are going to be counting on him to be an RBI threat; he might be the only serious RBI man in the entire lineup. That’s a lot of pressure for a 23 year old.
But I think he can do it.
Carlos A. Rodriguez, LHP
There is no pre-season evaluation. Rodriguez did not show up on any of our radars before this season began. The 2012 season marked his debut as a professional baseball player, and he made that debut in the Dominican Summer League at the age of 16.
As it turns out, this kid can pitch. No matter what stats we consider, the numbers look pretty good. He struck out more than a batter an innings (9.2 K/9), amassed a K/BB or 3.65, gave up just two home runs (good for an HR/9 of 0.3), and throttled opposing hitters to the tune of a 2.01 ERA and 1.005 WHIP. No matter you slice it, those are encouraging numbers from a very young lefty in a professional league.
Rodriguez currently stands in at 5’11″ and 178 lb. Given his age, it is not impossible that he could add another inch or three over the next year or two. If that happens it will almost certainly only help him maintain his strikeout rates as he moves up the system. Even if it doesn’t happen, he may have a bright future. The Cubs can use all the young pitching they can find, and the emergence of Rodriguez is a very welcome addition to the farm system.
His GO/AO as a starter is just 1.07; that isn’t bad, but I would like to see that improve as he begins the climb up the farm system. That climb could begin next summer with a trip to the Arizona Rookie League, but I would not be surprised if the Cubs left him in the Dominican to add an extra year’s training, conditioning, and experience to an already promising beginning. I don’t think the Cubs’ front office will want to artificially slow him down, but I think they will be careful about the work load they put on his frame right now. A little caution now could help prevent injuries later. Whether in the Caribbean or in the desert, I don’t think Rodriguez will toss more than 100 innings in a single season until 2014.
Rodriguez is a long way from Chicago, or even from us knowing if he is a legitimate prospect. We need more reports on his actual stuff and some outings against tougher competition before we can get too excited. He is off to a good start, though, and we will continue to watch him closely.