From young minor league prospects to rookie big-league talent, Prospect Press will be providing an inside look at baseball's best talent for years to come. Today's Prospect Press focuses on San Diego Padres first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Prospect Press: Anthony Rizzo, San Diego Padres
Sunday June 12th, 2011
Even the most casual baseball observers knew that the departure of Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego would cause a drop-off in production from the Padre offense in 2011. Far fewer accounted for just how vital Gonzalez' presence was in the lineup. Though San Diego was not quite an offensive juggernaut in 2010, the lineup produced enough to augment baseball's best bullpen en route to a 90-win season and second place finish in the National League West. This year, however, without its linchpin, the San Diego offense has been downright dreadful, ranking dead last in the NL in batting average (.246 to .233), on-base percentage (.317 to .302), and OPS (.689 to .637). Yet optimism in San Diego is at its highest point yet this season almost entirely due to the arrival of 21-year old first baseman Anthony Rizzo, a former 6th round pick acquired by the Padres from Boston in the offseason blockbuster that sent Gonzalez to Beantown.
At the time of the Gonzalez trade, however, Rizzo was not considered the most importance piece acquired by the Padres. Rather, right-hander Casey Kelly, a first-round choice in 2008, was named the top prospect in the Boston system by Baseball America. Rizzo secured the third spot after posting a .260/.334/.480 line with 25 home runs and 100 RBI while splitting time between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland as a 20-year old. Rizzo's 2010 numbers were certainly solid, but hardly hinted at what was to come in 2011.
The Padres took an aggressive approach with Rizzo in spring training and sent him to Triple-A Tucson to begin the season. The results were eye-popping as Rizzo displayed a smooth and refined left-handed stroke that, strangely enough, has elicited comparisons to none other than Adrian Gonzalez. Before his promotion to the majors, Rizzo tore apart Pacific Coast League pitching, batting .365 with 16 homers and 63 RBI. Even more impressively, he has demonstrated a penchant for delivering key hits, batting .463 with runners in scoring position (RISP) with an eye-popping .531 on-base percentage (OBP) in such situations.
It appears the Padres are going to give Rizzo an opportunity to stick as a full-time player at first base for the remainder of the season. Brad Hawpe, who has taken the bulk of at-bats in 2011, was asked to move to right field. The other member of the first base platoon, Jorge Cantu, has produced a meager .196/.235/.290 line in 138 at-bats. Rizzo will be hard-pressed to come close to replicating his Triple-A power numbers, especially playing at cavernous Petco Park, but like Gonzalez, he should hit plenty of doubles and triples while taking advantage of the spacious power alleys in San Diego.
Rizzo's major league debut against the Washington Nationals stands as the highlight of the season to this point for San Diego. Playing before an energized crowd eager to see a franchise savior in action, the Padres matched their highest home offensive output of the season, scoring seven runs in a victory over Washington. Rizzo did not disappoint, atoning for an early strikeout with a leadoff triple in the fifth inning before coming around to score on a Chris Denorfia base hit. He drew a pair of walks in his next two plate appearances and saw an impressive 21 pitches on the night.
For fantasy purposes, Rizzo presents an interesting alternative for those seeking additional or increased production at first base. It's hard to expect prodigious power numbers playing in Petco, but the batting average, walks, and extra-base hits could provide owners in most formats, particularly NL-only, with a low-risk, high-upside option. As a team, the Padres hit more efficiently on the road, and that will likely be true for Rizzo as well, particularly with frequent trips to Colorado and Arizona. He won't salvage the season for bottom-feeding teams, but a line resembling that of Eric Hosmer, a similarly-talented left-handed hitting first baseman, is certainly not out of the question.
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