Every high school team has that one gifted freshman who gets called up to varsity and threatens all the veterans positions.
Sometimes the elder statesmen label the youngster as an outcast, other times his talent is embraced and it pushes everyone else to perform better. Anthony Rizzo is the new kid on campus and Cubs veterans are certainly leaning toward the latter.
Since Rizzo was called up a week ago the Cubs have won five out of six and have shown flashes of improvement as a team. "The Riz kid" himself has gone 7-for-23 (.304) with two home runs, five RBIs, two doubles and a .986 OPS. He has also delivered the game-winning RBI on three occasions. And lets be honest no matter how good he is none of the seniors want to get outplayed by a freshman.
Since Rizzos arrival Luis Valbuena is hitting .333 -- .87 points above his average -- with six RBIs and a 1.030 OPS. David Dejesus is also a prime example of the Rizzo effect, hitting .64 points above his average since the call-up. Darwin Barney has been hitting well above his average. That, coupled with a few outstanding nights in the field shows great progress for him as well.
Whether related to Rizzos arrival or not, Starlin Castro took four walks last week, which is more than a third of his season total. I dont know if its the unrelenting Chicago heat, Rizzos arrival or a mystery element, but the Cubs have more closely resembled a team with playoff hopes than one in last place of late.
Rizzo doesnt appear to be feeling the pressure either -- because honestly, there isnt much. This is the perfect environment for a talented prospect to find his bearings in what can be a cruel and unforgiving league. If anyone is feeling the heat it is Rizzos teammates who are trying to keep pace with the new guy.
Cubs brass has made it clear that this team is in the process of a massive roster overhaul and sometimes all it takes is a fresh, talented face in the clubhouse to remind some of the veterans that tomorrow is never a guarantee.
It is much too early to pass judgment on the new guy but there does seem to be an aura about him. In one week "The Rizzard of Oz" has granted Valbuena a swing, Barney a glove and Castro an eye.
But most importantly, he has granted Chicago a glimmer of hope for the future.
Joe Musso contributed to this update.