Anthony Rizzo: Here Comes the Power

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

In 2012, Anthony Rizzo went from the worst hitting environment in baseball to one of the best, a move that changed his fantasy outlook significantly. Now, with the aid of the fierce winds of Wrigley, Rizzo might be prepared to step up as one of the top power hitters in fantasy baseball.

Jed Hoyer's guy couldn't have found the more ideal situation. One year after it looked like Anthony Rizzo was destined to be the latest victim of Petco Park, he had the good fortune to be shipped over to a much friendlier home park in an offseason trade. He now looks like one of the top up-an-coming power hitters at first base, all thanks to Hoyer's persistence. After shredding AAA for a year and a half, Rizzo was called up to the Windy City in June to take over as the Cubs' starting first baseman. In a relatively weak crop of National League first basemen, it could simply be a matter of time before he finds himself near the top of fantasy rankings.

Rizzo's journey to the Cubs included a lot of fits and starts and a lot of intervention from Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer. Rizzo was originally drafted by the Red Sox (when Hoyer was assistant general manager) in 2007. After overcoming Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2008, Rizzo was traded as part of a package to the Padres for Adrian Gonzalez. The man behind the curtain for the Padres who executed the deal? Jed Hoyer, who at that time was serving as that team's GM. After an abortive cup of coffee with the Pads (where he was dubbed their most-hyped prospect since Roberto Alomar), Rizzo was shipped to the Cubs in January of 2012 for Andrew Cashner. Once again, it was none other than Jed Hoyer doing the acquiring, as Hoyer was by this time the general manager of the Cubs. It marked the third time that Hoyer had acquired Rizzo in some fashion in five years.

Hoyer was justifiably enthusiastic about getting Rizzo, of course. If there's one thing that has defined Rizzo throughout his baseball career, it's been power. Pure, raw power. At 6'3", 220 pounds, Rizzo can send baseballs a very long way with his long swing. After breaking out with a .260/.334/.480, 25-homer season across two levels (as a 19-year-old) in 2010, Rizzo showed up in the Pacific Coast League and went absolutely nutso. While the hitting environments in the PCL are essentially bandbox-caliber, Rizzo's numbers there were still impressive. In 93 games at Tucson in 2011, he hit .331/.404/.652 with 26 homers, and then wreaked equal destruction at Iowa in 2012, with a .342/.405/696 line and 23 homers in 70 games.

Rizzo was brought up by the Cubs in June to take over first base, and he's not likely to give up the position any time soon. Unlike his disappointing call up with the Padres a year earlier, Rizzo hit well right out of the gate for Chicago. He mashed .330/.375/.567 in July and looked poised to continue right where he left off in AAA. While he slowed down from that torrid pace a bit, his overall 2012 major league line (.285/.342/.463, 15 home runs) was very good, especially for a 22-year-old.

The trade that sent Rizzo to the Cubs drastically altered his future fantasy outlook for the better. Instead of trying to hit at Petco Park, a home field that murders left-handed hitters, Rizzo now gets to hit at wind-blown Wrigley Field, a park that has traditionally increased left-handed power exponentially. The switch in home ballparks could not have been more beneficial. Instead of a player who projects as a mid-tier fantasy option who gets hurt in his home games, Rizzo just might project as one of the best fantasy first basemen in a few years. The kid has tremendous power, and I don't think I'm being too extreme when I say that he could be a 35-40 homer guy in a couple of seasons.

Of course, with this potential comes some caveats. Although he worked on cutting his swing down this past season, Rizzo has always had a long swing and scouts have never believed that he'll hit for a high batting average. His strikeout rate was healthy overall in his major league at-bats this year, but that was mostly the product of his scalding July. The strikeout-to-walk ratio that he showed in September (23:12 in 128 plate appearances) is probably more indicative of what he'll do as his career progresses. He also was pretty useless against lefties this season, a development that could mar his production should he simply become a borderline-platoon type.

I have the feeling I'm a little more bullish on Rizzo than a lot of fantheads, but I think he's now in the perfect situation to flourish. He's the first baseman of the future for a rebuilding team and is in a lefty-friendly home ballpark that benefits left-handed power hitters. What's not to like? In an uninspiring National League crop of first baseman, he's a candidate to become a standout in fantasy leagues. He's not going to be in the Prince Fielder category of star player, but several years of .270/.350/.500 is not an unreasonable guess for where his potential can lead. That would put him squarely among the better NL first basemen and mark him as a guy to target in NL-only drafts, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see a 30-homer season in 2013.

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