Anthony Rizzo has resisted putting his season in full context, tabling that idea until the season’s over, maybe when he’s chilling on a beach back home in South Florida.
But Rizzo’s inconsistency and Starlin Castro’s step-back year have made Theo Epstein’s front office question Dale Sveum’s feel for young core players, leaving Cubs fans and the Chicago media wondering whether he’ll be back managing the team in 2014.
Against that backdrop, Sveum took an open-ended Rizzo question and ran with it during his pregame session with reporters on Sunday at Wrigley Field.
“You analyze a year,” Sveum said, “and it’s not as bad as everybody makes it out to be.”
That line won’t be part of the next Cubs Convention marketing campaign, but Sveum defended Rizzo’s development. This is someone who turned 24 last month and woke up on Sunday in the top five for walks (74) and doubles (38) in the National League.
“Twenty-two homers, 75, possibly 80 RBIs for a second-year player isn’t the end of the world,” Sveum said, chuckling. “If you look back with a second-year player, would you take 20-something homers and 80 RBIs? We’ve put him in a tough situation.
“It’s his first time ever playing every single day in the big leagues. It’s his first time with the pressure of hitting third every single day.”
The Cubs also haven’t surrounded Rizzo with established middle-of-the-order hitters who would deflect some attention and allow him more time to find his comfort zone. The Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals can incorporate younger players into their lineup without putting the franchise on their shoulders.
But Rizzo appeared to handle the pressure just fine last year, when he generated 15 homers and 48 RBI in 87 games after his hyped promotion from Triple-A Iowa. He also hit .338 with runners in scoring position.
Those optimistic projections for a 30-homer, 100-RBI season never materialized. Rizzo’s hitting .184 with runners in scoring position and the body language at home plate hasn’t been great.
“The learning process of that is out of the way,” Sveum said. “We forget that everybody’s going to have their bad year or whatever. You get through it at a young age and then you’re like: ‘Wow, I’ve been there before. I know how to get out of it. I understand the process.’”
Sveum also pointed out Rizzo’s defense “has been as good as anybody in the game” and should get the first baseman some Gold Glove consideration.
This back-and-forth is part of the evaluation for Sveum, who has to hope that he’ll be around to see all the hard work pay dividends.
“In a couple weeks, when you get to relax and dissect everything, this will be the best thing for me,” Rizzo said. “Not only for myself, but everyone else on this team. Guys are going to bounce back and be strong next year.”