This time, Cubs think Rizzo can live up to the hype

This time, Cubs think Rizzo can live up to the hype
May 31, 2012, 1:18 am
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The 38,516 fans had filed out of Wrigley Field. The players had showered and left the clubhouse, about to enjoy a wide-open night in Chicago before the off-day.

After Wednesdays 8-6 win over the San Diego Padres capped by Darwin Barneys first walk-off homer on any level the Cubs shifted to their No. 1 priority.

Baseball czar Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer watched Max Fried, a high school lefty from California, throw from the mound. Chairman Tom Ricketts and president of business operations Crane Kenney hung around the batting cage.

Manager Dale Sveum tossed batting practice to Carlos Correa, a shortstop from Puerto Rico. Executives, scouts, coaches Randy Bush, Tim Wilken, Oneri Fleita, Shiraz Rehman, Chris Bosio, Dave McKay all took in the scene.

The Cubs (18-32) could have as many as 40 prospects come through the North Side before the June 4 draft. Its all part of being thorough, one of the buzzwords in Epsteins front office.

Keep that in mind the next time someone asks about top prospect Anthony Rizzo, whose right wrist is said to be feeling better, which should allow him to go back to crushing the Pacific Coast League.

Scouting guru Jason McLeod drafted Rizzo for the Boston Red Sox, and was involved in the Adrian Gonzalez and Andrew Cashner trades with the Padres. The Cubs executives who promoted Rizzo last season felt like they cut corners, and it wont happen again.

Its dj vu, McLeod said. We went through the exact same thing last year and couldnt be happier with him. (Its) not the numbers hes putting up. Its the development that we talked about. He has been working on some things mechanically, his approach (and) his day-to-day routine.

Because he went through (that) last year with the anticipation in San Diego, and the struggles once he got up, its made him a better player mentally, because hes much stronger coming out of that.

I think hes in his finishing stages now, and it shouldnt be too long before hes up here.

To reset, the Padres were sinking below .500 last June, and werent getting enough production out of first baseman Brad Hawpe. So Hoyer promoted Rizzo, who had hit .365 with 16 homers and 63 RBIs in 52 games at Triple-A Tucson.

That line mirrors what Rizzo has done so far at Triple-A Iowa .354 average with 17 homers and 46 RBIs in 48 games. What he did last season in San Diego hitting .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats has been seared into everyones thinking.

Padres manager Bud Black understood when a reporter mentioned how Cubs fans have become obsessed with Rizzo.

Thats just like our fans were it hasnt changed, Black said. Hes putting up tremendous Triple-A numbers that get people excited, which they should, because hes a great, talented young player.

When he came to us, I think the hype (got to him). Initially, he tried to live up to it, meaning he tried too hard. He was probably a little bit amped, overly excited, and when you take that into the batters box, youre not yourself.

Theres a big difference between Triple-A pitching and major-league pitching. Theres a learning curve and Anthony in a small sample size of at-bats with us hadnt quite gotten there yet.

Hes still a guy that can continue to grow as a player, as I suspect he will. The thing about Anthony is hes a bright kid. He has the ability to make adjustments.

Hoyer has said that no minor-league player should be viewed as the savior for a major-league offense. The Cubs had no intention of doing anything just for show during a 12-game losing streak, and they responded by scoring 24 runs during this three-game sweep of the Padres (17-35).

Late June looks like a more realistic timeframe for Rizzo. Hoyer made a point to say that Rizzo was only 21 years old last season, and skipped college after the Red Sox took him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.

Padres first-base coach Dave Roberts who played high school ball with McLeod in San Diego and won a World Series ring with the 2004 Red Sox says Rizzo has what it takes.

Hes going to be a nice player, Roberts said. I think that last year we were forced to kind of bring him up here and he might not have been ready. You know, he probably wasnt. But I think in that situation, our hand was forced.

Will a nice player be enough for desperate fans? Are there still holes in the swing? Will the hype be overwhelming?

The Cubs certainly feel like theyve done their homework on Rizzo, who overcame Hodgkins lymphoma while in the Red Sox system and has been described as mature beyond his years. He had to go through the screening process the Cubs are using now.

You see a lot of ability and talent, but you really dont know the character, Sveum said. You give somebody a lot of money, sometimes you just dont know the background, so everything you do that way is risky when youre building.

You really need character people. But its a lot of things: Can you handle playing in a city like (Chicago)? Can you handle playing in the playoffs? Can you handle the pressure of these kind of things? So youre always looking for that.

Pretty soon, the Cubs are going to have to find out with Rizzo.