Anthony Rizzo, 1B San Diego Padres
Height: 6’3″ Weight: 220
As the off-season maneuvering and roster-shaping continues for major league teams, a huge deal was made the between the Cincinnati Reds and the San Diego Padres. We covered that transaction here. One of the interesting by-products of that trade is the potential logjam at first base for the San Diego Padres. With 2 very talented first base prospects in Yonder Alonso and Anthony Rizzo, it would seem that the Padres have a tough decision on who should be the starting first basemen for the club in 2012. We have already done a prospect instinct for Yonder Alonso, so now seems an appropriate time to take a close look at Anthony Rizzo.
Anthony Rizzo has long been on the prospect radar, having been selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 6th round and 205th overall pick of the 2007 amateur draft. Rizzo should have gotten a full season of professional ball in 2008 to begin his career, but that was cut short after only 87 plate appearances and 21 games. He was diagnosed and began treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma in April of 2008. After undergoing chemotherapy, Rizzo was determined to be cancer free and was able to resume his baseball career in 2009. Upon returning to baseball, Rizzo began to show promise very quickly. His 2009 season demonstrated that he could make decent contact posting a commendable .297 batting average. Additionally, he showed good patience at the plate with 50 free passes and a nice bb/k ratio of 50/99. In 2010, his offensive game began to change by showing a sharp increase in power production. The home run total of 12 in 2009 jumped to 25 in 2010. Likewise the 2009 rbi total of 66 was then dramatically increased to 100 rbi’s in the 2010 season. That power production came at the expense of a drop in batting average to .260 and a sharp increase in 132 strikeouts from the previous years 99. The success of 2010 caused the prospect world to take notice and we put him at #46 on our 2011 top prospect list .
The 2011 minor league season was particularly impressive for Rizzo in that he was able to make a strong showing in his batting average of .331 while maintaining excellent power production with 26 hr’s and 101 rbi’s in only 356 at-bats. He continued his trademark patience at the plate, as well, with 10.4% base-on-ball rate. The only complaint to be found in his offensive numbers was the k-rate of 21.5%, which mirrors his 2010 k-rate. However, a slash line .331/.404/652 is good by any measure showing good contact rates, fine ability to get on base and excellent power. Unfortunately, Rizzo’s wasn’t able to carry those numbers into the major leagues where he scuffled, trying to catch of up with the competition. For the record, he had 153 plate appearances posting a .141/.281/.242 slash with 1hr, 9 rbi’s and 46 strikeouts. At the age of 22 years old and this being his first experience at the major league level, it doesn’t seem fair to prognosticate based on his 2012 MLB performance.
As we delve deeper into Rizzo’s likelihood for success, let’s take a look at the tool-set that makes him such a solid prospect.
Standing in the batters box, Anthony Rizzo has a very imposing demeanor. He appears every inch of his 6’3” frame when he is set. His swing starts with a rather closed stance. He uses that stance to keep his weight back until the ball reaches the strike zone. With his solid weight transfer, Rizzo is able uncoil and really drive the ball with maximum power. The sound mechanics of his swing have two outcomes. First, it allows Rizzo to cover all of the strike zone well. He is well-balanced and able to adjust to pitches located anywhere in the zone. The second outcome is that he generates nice bat speed, which translates into the ball being struck hard. Balls really tend to jump off his bat and this will allow him to continue the power-production we have already seen in his game. His swing is smooth, consistent, and capable of very good major league production. The other aspect his offensive approach is that he is very patient at the plate. He consistently has shown a 10-11% base-on-ball rate throughout his minor league career. This willingness to watch pitches allows him to make pitchers work and often leads to free passes from the opposing pitcher. However, it is possible that he lets too many pitches go by. The willingness to be patient may cause him to watch rather than swing at very hittable pitches and could possibly contribute to the 21.5% strikeout rate. That being said, Rizzo brings very advanced approach for a young player and should serve him well as he adjusts to major league pitchers.
Anthony Rizzo carries a large frame of 220 pounds, which limits his speed and range. Rizzo is a natural first basemen and lacks the athleticism to move off of the position. However, he does have a good glove and is able to field his position relatively well. He has decent quickness to the ball, which belies his large frame. Of particular note is that Rizzo is adept at cleanly fielding poor throws to the bag. He has the raw tools to be an above average first baseman at the major league level.
Overall, Anthony Rizzo is a player that has all of the markers to suggest that he is going to be a successful major league first basemen. He brings a solid defensive game with a high-ceiling offensive set of skills. We like the fact that he has a well-rounded approach at the plate that includes good contact rates combined with solid power and a patient, disciplined style. There is certainly room for improvement in the strikeout rate, but he mitigates much of that with his other offensive attributes. As a survivor of cancer and the treatments that go along with it, one would have to believe that there is good make-up to Rizzo. All of the reports back that up and refer to Rizzo as having a good work ethic and a strong desire to improve. He draws good reviews from coaches and teammates and may eventually grow to take on a strong leadership role.
With all of that going for Rizzo, one would think it should be clear sailing to becoming an all-star level first baseman. However, the path to first base at Petco park is far from clear. With the recent trade between Cincinnati and San Diego and the acquisition of Yonder Alonso, things have gotten much more complicated. Whereas, a few weeks ago, Rizzo was a shoe-in for the starting first baseman for the Padres and heir apparent to Adrian Gonzales, he now has to scrap for the starting position with a prospect that may even be more ready for the big leagues. While Rizzo and Yonder aren’t really the same kind of players, they have similar ceilings. Both have the capability to be all-star level first basemen. They both are ready to be in the big leagues, though Alonso may be slightly more advanced being 2.5 years older. For the record Alonso has made some starts in the outfield for the Cincinnati Reds, so it is possible that the Padres may try to alleviate the problem by having Alonso play there. However, Alonso is most definitely suited to be a 1st baseman and lacks the tools to be even close to an average defender in the outfield. The other possibility is that the Padres may solve the problem by moving either Rizzo or Alonso. It would not be surprising to see many hot-stove trade rumors involving either player as the off-season roster shaping continues. We believe that there are likely several teams that have inquired with the Padres as to the cost of acquiring either player. While it is not clear as to the when or where Rizzo will land his full-time first-base job, it is very likely that he will be in the upper tier of major league first basemen soon. His talent is simply too good to remain in the minors or sharing the position with someone else.
Check back soon as we get ready to launch into our top prospect list for all of baseball and also get our baseball geek on and take a look at the top 21 players for each MLB team, which we will do later this winter. While you’re here, take a look at a recent article from our Prospect Instinct series: Prospect Instinct|Charlie Blackmon and be a step ahead of the game. Also, check out a friend of ours for all of your fantasy sports needs. Fantasy Rundown is updated religiously and is truly an awesome resource. Thanks for checking Baseball Instinct. We’re working hard to bring you the best of the minor leagues and make the site the best experience it can be. So don’t hesitate to tell us what you would like to read about. Email us now at email@example.com.