Anthony Rizzo is getting ready for takeoff

Anthony Rizzo is getting ready for takeoff
May 24, 2012, 5:24 am
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This wasnt exactly floating a trial balloon. Cubs manager Dale Sveum just happened to answer a question about Anthony Rizzo before Sundays matinee at Wrigley Field.

It immediately generated headlines, and getting swept by the White Sox almost became an afterthought. Sure, the Cubs could use a designated hitter when they go to American League stadiums for interleague play next month. Why not Rizzo?

Sveum said that will be discussed with the front office, and he knows his lineup could use a jolt right now. Rizzo went deep again on Wednesday for Triple-A Iowa, running his total to 16 homers. The 22-year-old is hitting .355 with 43 RBI through 44 games.

Cubs fans have long loved their prospects. Maybe its part of the conditioning for wait until next year. The explosion of information on the Internet has only increased their fascination with the next big thing.

With the hype building, Rizzo sat down with Comcast SportsNet this week in Des Moines, telling Luke Stuckmeyer that he tries not to pay attention to any of it.

I really just focus on today and now, Rizzo said in an interview airing on SportsNet Central at 10 p.m. on Thursday. I get texts from my friends, and my parents calling me, this and that. But theres no point in getting wrapped up around any of that, because its just going to drive you crazy. I learned that last year. Whenever that time comes, Ill be ready.

Whenever the first baseman of the future is promoted, it wont be by happenstance. It will have almost nothing to do with whats going on at the big-league level and everything to do with Rizzos growth as a player.

This is all part of being thorough, the buzzword in this new front office. Before the season began, each prospect in the organization received an individual player plan for improvement, which outlined goals to meet this year.

Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have already scouted the Triple-A club in person. The Cubs also installed cameras in each of their minor-league stadiums. SpyCam shows real-time video on the Web, which team executives can watch on their laptops.

There are financial benefits in waiting to restart the meter on Rizzos major-league service time until later this summer, though Epstein has said that will not really be a consideration.

Rizzos experience with the San Diego Padres last year hangs over the decision. Hoyer was running the Padres then, and has admitted that it was a mistake to rush Rizzo, who hit .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats.

Rizzo called the video sickening to watch. What makes him think hell be ready this time?

Just preparation, Rizzo said. (Its) preparing every day, staying in that good routine. I have a good routine going right now that Im sticking with. Nothings going to get in my way. Its just tunnel vision right now (for) where I want to be. That vision is with the Cubs for a long time and many championships.

The Boston Red Sox model is being rebuilt at Clark and Addison. Cubs executive Jason McLeod selected Rizzo who played his high school ball in South Florida in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.

Epstein and Hoyer were on opposite ends of the Adrian Gonzalez deal and included Rizzo, before re-acquiring him in the Andrew Cashner trade last winter.

It means a lot, Rizzo said. They drafted me when I was a little baby at 17, when I was thick and chubby and theyve seen me grow. Theyve seen me take my lumps and hopefully they see me excel.

Rizzo is now listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, and hes shown real agility around the bag.

Unprompted, one Cubs official looked back on some of the balls that trickled through the right side of the infield think of those two late losses to the Washington Nationals the first week of the season and guaranteed that Rizzo would have made the plays.

Those skills should be maximized with Sveums intricate defensive positioning, which pinches the shortstop and second baseman and tries to take away the middle.

I think he (could become) a Gold Glove first baseman, Iowa manager Dave Bialas said. Not only does he have power and is hitting for average, he has good instincts on the base paths. He really does a good job in going first to third, reading the ball off the bat, scoring from second base. Hes really a complete player.

Cubs executives have described Rizzo as mature beyond his years after overcoming Hodgkins lymphoma while in the Red Sox system. They believe how hes responded to adversity is telling.

Rizzo and Iowa outfielder Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley, are viewed as potential glue guys who will set the clubhouse tone for future Cubs teams.

Im really excited at the opportunity we have to be teammates, hopefully for a long time, Jackson said. We push each other. I think a good teammate always has to push his teammates.

Were constantly talking baseball and when the times going to come for each of us. (Were) helping each other make those adjustments, getting on each other for missing pitches we should have hit. Its a good relationship. Im excited to see him in a Cubs uniform soon, hopefully.

Its a good guess that whenever Rizzo makes his Cubs debut, it will come on the road, away from the media crush at Wrigley Field. Obviously, hed like to be in the show already, but thats not one of the talking points.

Rizzo is going to keep grinding away, until the Cubs have no choice.

Every day is a new challenge in baseball, Rizzo said. So every day youre going to be working on something, whether its the rookie league in Mesa, or here in Iowa.

Youre always trying to get better, whatever level youre at. Whether its here or the big leagues, there are going to be constant adjustments. Thats what this game is about.