Every Monday I will be taking an in-depth look at a player who could potentially get called up to the Majors this year, and could be useful to fantasy owners as a result. In some cases, it could a top prospect (like today's), and in other cases it could be a player in the minors who would benefit from an opportunity in the bigs, especially if an injury or trade occurs.
Today's prospect is one who is already on his third organization despite being just 22 years old, and who has already lost his rookie eligibility due to 128 at bats in 2011 with San Diego. He has been absolutely destroying the Pacific Coast League so far this season, and could be in line for a call up to the Majors sometime after the All-Star break. That prospect is Cubs' 1B Anthony Rizzo.
Weight: 220 lbs.
On 40-man Roster: Yes
Options Used: 2 (2011, 2012)
Rizzo was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 6th round of the 2007 draft, signing on August 15th of that season. He signed for $325,000, and appeared in 6 games for the Sox' rookie league affiliate that season. The team sent him to the full-season South Atlantic league for the 2008 season, where he was destroying everything to start out the season. He was hitting .373 through 21 games when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma, and missed the remainder of the season while he underwent chemotherapy.
Rizzo returned to the Sally League to start the 2009 season, where he hit 9 home runs in 64 games before being promoted to High-A Salem. He finished the season with a combined .297/.368/.461 line with 12 home runs and 66 runs batted in.
The organization sent him back to High-A for about a month prior to sending him to AA, where he put on an offensive show. His final numbers for both levels: 25 HR, 100 RBI, 10 SB, and a .260/.334/.480 slash line in 136 games. During that offseason, Rizzo was the main piece returning to San Diego in exchange for Padres' slugging 1B Adrian Gonzalez.
The Padres sent Rizzo to AAA Tucson to start the season, and he continue to pound pitching to the tune of .331/.404/.652 with 26 HR and 101 RBI on the season. Tucson is a known hitters' paradise, and those numbers were split between two different stints. In the middle, Rizzo was called up to San Diego, struggled, and sent back to Tucson for a time. He finished his time in the Majors last season with a .141 batting average in 49 games with just 1 home run.
New GM Josh Byrnes acquired Yonder Alonso during the offseason, making Rizzo expendable as well. The Padres sent Rizzo to the Cubs (and former GM Jed Hoyer) for reliever Andrew Cashner.
What's Stopping Him From Contributing Now?
1) The Cubs wanted to give Bryan LaHair the opportunity to show whether he can play in the Majors.
And boy, has LaHair made them look like geniuses to this point. Through Friday's game, LaHair is hitting .359/.455/.717 with 8 home runs, 18 runs batted in, and 14 runs scored. He is currently in the top 10 in the National League in the following categories: WAR, AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, Total Bases, Doubles, Home Runs. He's also sporting an adjusted OPS+ of 219. While LaHair is extremely unlikely to keep up at this pace, there is absolutely no reason to remove him from the starting lineup so far.
2) Service Time Considerations
Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLB Trade Rumors estimated that for Rizzo to be under team control for the 2018 season, the Cubs would need to leave him down in AAA until late June, and would need to leave him there until late August to best avoid giving Rizzo a 4th arbitration year. Given the performance of LaHair to date, this seems like it will be almost a given that he will stay down until at least June, and probably longer.
3) The Organization's Fear of His Failure
This one is pure speculation on my part, but I think the organization is a bit shy about the possibility of bringing Rizzo up, having him fail, and having to send him back to AAA for a third time. Ideally, you want to see the player come up and stay up in the Majors, but after his poor performance in San Diego last year, this may be a concern.
What Could He Do When He is Called Up?
Well, in 33 games so far at AAA Iowa he has hit 11 home runs, driven in 34, and is hitting .349 so far. A bit inflated due to being in the PCL, especially given that he has a HR/FB rate of 45.8% so far this year. He is going to come back to Earth somewhat before he is called up, but I could honestly see him as a 25+ home run bat with a .280+ average in the Majors.
When Does He Seem Likely To Get There?
I don't see the Cubs bringing him up unless they can figure out someway to play both him and LaHair at the same time. For that to happen, LaHair would have to go to the outfield, which would mean benching either David DeJesus (RF) or more likely Alfonso Soriano (LF). As neither of those scenarios seem particularly likely, I could see Rizzo up sometime after the All-Star break if LaHair struggles at any point. If that doesn't happen, we could see some of the most ridiculous single season numbers in the PCL ever from Rizzo, and try to get him up in September.
Rizzo sure is starting to look like he is ready to contribute to a Major League lineup, and definitely a fantasy lineup. However, he is currently blocked, and it doesn't appear likely that will change in the next few months.
Have a question about a prospect or about your fantasy team? Send it to me on Twitter @jasonsbaseball