Anthony Rizzo, still raking (US Presswire)
The Chicago Cubs, as you might have heard, are struggling in a few areas. The club is now 3-10, losers of five straight, recently swept by the Marlins. Chicago ranks 26th in team ERA (4.90), 24th in runs scored (46), and dead-last in home runs (5).
No one expected this bunch to contend for a playoff berth in 2012, but a fan can always hope that his or her team won't be intolerably bad. And yet here we are. The Cubs are weapons-grade bad. Almost unwatchable.
As often happens when a team reaches such a low point, calls have begun for minor league reinforcements. First base prospect Anthony Rizzo, 22, is off to another torrid start at Triple-A, hitting .393/.433/.786 with seven homers through 14 games, so his name has become increasingly popular in Chicago. You'll note that Rizzo's current home run total actually exceeds the combined efforts of all Cubs hitters. He hit a pair of bombs on Thursday, his third multi-homer game this season.
Of course it's no surprise to see that Rizzo is dominating the PCL, because he hit .331/.404/.652 in 93 games at Tucson last season, driving in 101 runs and belting 26 homers. He's really had little trouble with minor league pitching. It's the big league arms that give him fits. Rizzo was a wreck last season when called up by the Padres, collecting only 18 hits in 128 at-bats, striking out 46 times. The kid has a long swing, and he was easily handled by MLB pitchers. Lefties have been an unsolvable riddle, too. In Rizzo's 19 at-bats against left-handers so far this year, he has just four hits (three singles), no walks and six Ks.
So despite the gaudy numbers, there are still issues for Rizzo to work through in the minors. Please be patient, whether you're a Cubs fan or a fantasy owner. It doesn't sound as if Chicago's front office has any interest in rushing the organization's top young talent.
This from the Tribune's Paul Sullivan:
Despite the terrible start, Cubs President Theo Epstein isn't going to make any panic moves, such as bringing up Anthony Rizzo or Brett Jackson from Triple-A Iowa.
"Those guys are continuing their development at Triple A," Epstein said, adding they're "not giving up on guys" after 13 games.
Now here comes a terrific quote, something that many fantasy managers need to hear:
"Baseball is best understood from bigger samples and a distance sometimes," he said. "No one wants to get off to this kind of start. The lineup is not performing really well right now. It's a little bit early to be thinking about those kinds of moves, specifically with your better prospects."
Whenever Rizzo arrives in Chicago, you should expect that he'll remain a contact-challenged hitter, a batting-average liability with nice power potential. Let's just hope he can tread water this season, because he sank like a concrete block in 2011.
One additional Rizzo-related note before we hit the minor league bullets: If you're a Bryan LaHair investor, you shouldn't consider Rizzo a significant threat. LaHair can shift to a corner outfield spot, David DeJesus can move to center, and Marlon Byrd can just go away. Poof. Problem solved.
Update, 4/21: Boston is rumored to be close to a deal for Byrd, for some odd reason. If a trade goes down, there's obviously going to be some buzz about a potential Jackson/Rizzo call-up. Just remember, the Cubs have plenty of uninteresting outfield placeholders, should they choose to leave their prospects in the minors for the time being.
• Lonnie Chisenhall spent half of the 2011 season in Cleveland, so he officially graduated from the prospect ranks. But he opened at Triple-A Columbus in 2012 after an unimpressive spring performance. Chisenhall is still just 23, so it's perfectly acceptable for him to struggle with the adjustment to major league-caliber pitching. Give him time, please. He's off to an excellent start at Columbus, hitting .344 with 10 extra-base hits (four homers) in 15 games. The Tribe is starting 32-year-old Jack Hannahan at third, and he shouldn't be much of an obstacle (although he's hitting .312 at the moment).
• Cardinals prospect Shelby Miller got off to a rough start at Triple-A Memphis, allowing four earned runs in each of his first two appearances. Miller finally picked up his first win of the season on Wednesday, striking out nine hitters over five frames, giving up just one run. He racked up 170 Ks over 139.2 innings at two levels last season, delivering an ERA of 2.77, so there's clear fantasy potential here. He'll be a recommended add when he gets the call, but there's no open spot in the Cards' major league rotation at the moment.
• So are you finally sick of Jarrod Saltalamacchia? Oh, you were sick of him in 2010? Well, the Red Sox have a quality 24-year-old catching prospect at Triple-A Pawtucket. Ryan Lavarnway hit 32 homers in 116 minor league games last season, while batting .290, and he went deep in back-to-back games earlier this week. He also has more walks than Ks at the moment (10 to 7), always a good sign. Keep him on the radar for later use.
• M's prospect Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft, hasn't allowed an earned run in either of his last two starts at Double-A. The left-hander has yielded only three hits over 12.0 innings, striking out 14. We'll likely see the 22-year-old Hultzen in Seattle this year; no doubt he's already long gone in your AL-only and dynasty leagues.
• Brad Peacock had a lousy spring for Oakland (12.86 ERA), erasing any hopes that he'd crack the opening day rotation .But he's started well at Triple-A Sacramento, striking out 17 batters in 19.0 innings, allowing only three earned runs. Peacock went 15-3 across two levels in the high minors last season, striking out 177 batters in 146.2 innings and posting a 2.39 ERA. His stuff should translate to the big leagues, even though the spring numbers were messy. It helps that he'll pitch in a friendly home environment when he reaches the majors.
• OK, the Reds probably need to give Billy Hamilton a new challenge, because he's feasting in the California League. He's already swiped 12 bags, he's hitting .396/.484/.660, and he has multiple hits in five straight games. Here's the key stat with Hamilton, which I've probably dropped into every Farm Report so far: He had 103 steals in 123 attempts last year. Interested? You should be, dynasty owner.
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