2014 Projected Starting First Baseman: Anthony Rizzo
2013 Season in Review: The 2013 campaign was Anthony Rizzo’s first full season at the major league level, and it was clear that he needed time to adjust.
Negatives- Rizzo struggled mightily batting last season. From start to finish he failed to hit the ball consistently, and it was obvious that improvements need to be made. Not only did Rizzo have problems hitting for average, he had issues even putting the ball in play. In roughly 600 at bats, Rizzo struck out over 120 times. Most power hitters are susceptible to striking out, so Rizzo’s problems are not surprising, but 120 strike outs is way too high for someone is supposed to be a major part of the offense for years to come. At year’s end Rizzo finished with a meager .233 batting average, and only 141 hits. The most frustrating part of the 2013 campaign was that Rizzo couldn’t consistently hit for average, his best average came in the month of May when he hit .295 compared to his worst month, August, when he hit .190. Last season no one expected the Cubs to perform well, so last year was designed to help Rizzo learn what it takes to play in the majors, while the fan base basically gave up on the season and turned their eyes to the future. Unfortunately, Rizzo couldn’t take full advantage of this opportunity, but 2014 is another great chance for him to take steps into becoming the All-Star caliber type player the Cubs think he can be.
Positives- The 2013 season was not a complete loss for Rizzo, in fact it may have been one of his most important seasons of his career. It may just be optimism, but it could be good for Rizzo to experience these struggles early in his career, so he can learn how to get out of slumps. This would pay off in the future when the Cubs are counting on him to play well each and every day, if he starts to enter a slump, he would know how to get his hitting back on track. From a statistical standpoint, Rizzo did put up some good numbers. Although he only hit .233, he drew 76 walks which led to a .323 On Base Percentage. Having the ability to go deep as well as the discipline to take a base on balls is something that can make Rizzo a very dangerous hitter in the future. Rizzo has always been known for his bat, but quietly had a spectacular year in the field. He started 158 out of the 162 games and only had 5 errors. His leadership in the field, and his workhorse determination makes him a near lock to be the first baseman of the future for the Cubs.
2014 Projections: This upcoming season will be a breakout year for Rizzo. One of the most important things for him is that there won’t be any surprises this season, he understands the grueling effects of the 162 major league season, and knows what it takes to play a full year in the majors. Rick Renteria was hired a few months ago as the Cubs new manager, and was brought in mainly to help in player development, his top priority being Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro. Under this new management, I feel as though Rizzo will have a much improved year. Barring any injuries, Rizzo will be playing first base on a daily basis, and will once again play over 150 games. He will use his struggles last season as motivation to perform well this upcoming year. Once again, no body expects the Cubs to go anywhere this season, including their front office, so Rizzo has another year to figure out what it takes to play well in the majors. I look for Rizzo to cut down on his strike outs, hopefully under 100, and will increase his hit total to around 170. He will not have an MVP type year, but he will create a lot of buzz on the North Side because he will show us glimpses of the All-Star first baseman of the future.
Prospect Watch: The Cubs aren’t very deep with prospects at the first base position, primarily because they don’t feel they need to be. Anthony Rizzo has been pegged as the starting first baseman for many years to come, and an injury may be the only way for someone to take that position from him. Last year the Cubs drafted hard hitting first baseman Kris Bryant, but the Cubs have moved him over to third base making him their top prospect on the hot corner. The other name to look out for this season is Dan Vogelbach. This may not be a popular name, but Vogelbach is having an outstanding career in the Cubs minor league system. He has spent three season in the Cubs farm system and hit for a .297 average with a .386 on base percentage. Vogelbach finished the season last year with the Daytona Cubs and will most likely start the 2014 campaign there as well. Best case scenario, Vogelbach would reach the major league level sometime in the 2015 season, or 2016 for sure. Unfortunately for Vogelbach, Anthony Rizzo has the starting job locked up for years, so unless Vogelbach changes positions, he might only be a backup for the Cubs. That being said, Vogelbach is having an extraordinary career in the minors and should be one of the top prospects to watch for the Cubs in 2014.
Stay tuned next week for an in depth look at the future of the second base position for the Cubs.