Anthony Rizzo’s strong performance in the World Baseball Classic eased my concerns he might suffer a sophomore slump in 2013.
It’s not that I expect Rizzo to struggle. He was poised and focused from the moment he arrived in late June last summer. And nothing about his 15 HRs, 48 RBI or .285/.342/.463 slash line in 87 games suggest the numbers are phony.
But sophomore slumps do happen: Jerome Walton, Geovany Soto, Randy Wells, et al.
So when Rizzo decided to join team Italy in favor of training with the Cubs this spring (and which the Cubs gave Rizzo their blessing to do so), I wasn’t sold the tourney was in his best interest while entering his first full season in the bigs.
Rizzo, however, played well in his 5 WBC games, and most importantly, avoided injury. At the plate he went 4-for-17, including a couple of doubles, scored 4 runs, drove in some clutch RBI (6) and walked 5 times vs. 3 strikeouts.
Rizzo’s 5 walks led the team. His 6 RBI and .409 on-base percentage ranked second-best on the squad. He added Gold Glove defense at first base.
Not to mention, the underdog Italians won their first two games in round 1 defeating Mexico 6-5 and Canada 14-4.
And they nearly won both their games in round 2, but eventually fell in thrilling one-run losses to the Dominican 5-4 and Puerto Rico 4-3.
The experience of learning from different coaches and playing in meaningful games (let’s be honest, that wasn’t happening with Chicago) appears to have left a positive impression on Rizzo. “It was a great experience for him,” said Dale Sveum.
Is it a sign Rizzo’s on track for another standout season? Let’s hope so. He’s the biggest bat in the lineup, aside from Soriano, and that could change in a hurry if Sori is traded or declines in production from last year.
For the Cubs to have even the slightest chance to compete this season they’ll need all their top guns performing up to standards. Rizzo will obviously play a huge part, assuming he can fend off the dreaded sophomore jinx.
Right now I’d put my money down on Rizzo to be just fine this season, and for many seasons to come.