Well Cubs fans, the question of the year has been answered. Top prospect Anthony Rizzo is set to make his Cubs debut on Tuesday, June 26, against the Mets at Wrigley Field. With the team at 25-48, dead last in the standings, fans need any kind of injection of hope to get excited about.
Rizzo was hitting .342 with 23 home runs, 62 RBI and a 1.101 OPS through 70 games at triple-A Iowa this season. The 22-year old, 6’-3”, 225-pound left-hander tore up triple-A last season, hitting .331 with 26 home runs, 101 RBI and a 1.056 OPS over 93 games before struggling at the major league level with the Padres. Over 49 games, he hit just .141 with one home run, nine RBI and a .523 OPS in his first go-around in the majors.
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Both Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have ties to Rizzo as Epstein drafted him in the sixth round of the 2007 draft while with the Red Sox, and also acquired him from the Padres, along with Zach Cates, as part of the Andrew Cashner deal last season. Hoyer, then GM of the Padres, acquired Rizzo in a trade from Epstein and the Red Sox as part of the Adrian Gonzalez trade in 2009. Clearly, they both have an affinity for the power-hitting first baseman.
While most fans were wondering what took so long to bring him up, especially considering how bad they are playing, the answer is strictly financial. By waiting until at least June 23, Rizzo is assured to be on the roster for less than 104 days, meaning he will be under team control until 2018, rather than 2017 had he gone over 104 days. Worrying about six years in the future may seem silly now, but it could be huge when the time comes. And besides, he isn’t exactly going to lead them to the playoffs this season. Any knowledgeable fan knows this was a throw away season, signing players to one-year contracts, filling holes and letting some expensive contracts expire as the team rebuilds from within.
Rizzo is expected to bat third or fourth in the lineup. The Cubs optioned infielder Adrian Cardenas to triple-A to make room for Rizzo.
As the current first baseman of the future begins his career with the major league team, another first baseman opened his season at the Arizona Rookie League this week. Daniel Vogelbach, the team’s second-round pick in 2011 out of Bishop Verot HS in Florida, is another left-handed power hitter with a ton of talent. At 6’-0” and 250-pounds, Vogelbach is hard to miss on the field, but don’t let his size fool you, he has quick feet and is a good athlete for his size. He hit .467 as a senior for powerhouse Bishop Verot with 19 home runs and 54 RBI over 34 games. He drew 27 walks to just seven strikeouts, showing his advanced approach at the plate as well as his high understanding of the game. The power, however, is what the Cubs loved when they drafted him. Even with your eyes closed, the sound the ball makes off his bat tells you he got a hold of one. He hit a 508-foot home runs at the 2010 Perfect Game Power Showcase, a record distance. So were his 30 total home runs in the event as he won it easily.
Through his first three games at the AZL, he is 5-for-14 (.357) with four doubles and four RBI. Over six games there last season, he went 7-for-24 (.292) with three doubles, a home run and six RBI. He has drawn three walks to three strikeouts over his nine career games, already demonstrating his strike zone judgment. With Vogelbach being just 19 years old, and Rizzo obviously going to get every opportunity to succeed with the Cubs, the team can be patient and let him develop. He is looking like a pretty good insurance policy down the line.
Another player from last year’s draft class to make his pro debut this past week was Trevor Gretzky, the son of “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky, and the team’s seventh-round pick in 2011. Trevor is a 6’-4”, 190-pound, left-handed first baseman/outfielder who inherited his dad’s athletic abilities, as well as his sensational hand-eye coordination. He was a star quarterback at Oaks Christian HS in California and just recently started to focus full time on baseball. He collected his first hit as a pro in his first game and is 1-for-9 through his first three games with two walks and two strikeouts. He is going to take some time to develop, but the Cubs are hoping that with his frame and bloodlines, can turn into a power-hitting corner outfielder who can hit for a high average.