Ten years ago next month, Anthony Rizzo was drafted in the 6th round by the Boston Red Sox, then led by familiar names in the current Chicago Cubs front office.
Members of that front office wound up trading for Rizzo twice thereafter, first to the San Diego Padres, and then to the Cubs, and to hear them tell it now, they all knew he was going to be something special.
Jesse Rogers writes about that process, as well as Rizzo’s development as a person, which took a dramatically different turn than you expect for a baseball player when Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma just one year after being drafted. I can never be reminded enough how much perspective Rizzo, still only 27, already has in his life. It’s a great read.
On the baseball side of things, I found it interesting to see Rizzo mention this: “I came up in ’12 and ’13 and the team wasn’t good. If I came up now and had the year I had in 2013, I’m a platoon player. The faith they showed just running me out there is big.”
It’s easy to forget just how much of an adjustment Rizzo made between the 2013 and 2014 season – remember how he went from doing nothing against lefties to destroying them? – but his quote did make me wonder about how 2013 Anthony Rizzo would fit on this Cubs team.
That year, Rizzo hit just .233/.323/.419 with a 105 wRC+. Even granting a great glove, that’s a tough first baseman to carry on a championship caliber team.
Still, there were always positive signals for the then 23-year-old (starting with the fact that he was 23). His walk rate (11.0%) and strikeout rate (18.4%) were both solidly above average, and his BABIP (.258) was so far below where you otherwise would have expected it (especially given his low 15.8% soft contact rate), there had to be some bad luck in there.
Were that Rizzo on this era of Cubs teams, given the long-standing belief in his future ability, I’ve got to think the Cubs still would have stuck with him. Of course, these era Cubs wouldn’t be as good as they are if those era Cubs hadn’t stuck with Rizzo and let him develop through the challenges of that season. These era Cubs are the beneficiary of having a fully-actualized version of Rizzo, the one the Red Sox had dreamed on 10 years ago.
As it stands today, Rizzo, ever the model of consistency, is hitting .277/.400/.518 so far this year, good for a 144 wRC+ after posting back-to-back 145 figures in 2016 and 2015.
In the Cubs’ last game, although they ultimately lost, Rizzo popped his fifth homer of the year, bringing them back to within one in the eighth inning:
Now he heads to Boston with the rest of the Cubs, where perhaps he can bend a few more of those around Pesky’s Pole.