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.
Anthony Rizzo should be in the starting lineup for team Italy’s first game in the World Baseball Classic this afternoon (2pm CST) against Mexico at Salt River Fields in Arizona. Italy next plays Canada tomorrow (3:30pm CST).
On Saturday team Italy, as part of Pool D (Italy, Mexico, Canada & United States), moves to Chase Field in Arizona where the Italians square off against the U.S. at 10pm CST.
Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk spoke with Rizzo following Italy’s 4-3 exhibition loss against the A’s on Tuesday and asked him his thoughts on being introduced as “Anthony RIT-tso” by the P.A. announcer.
“I think I’ll enjoy that this week,” said Rizzo.
The man Rizzo was traded for, Andrew Cashner, is listed as the Padres’ bellwether player for 2013 by Grant Brisbee of SB Nation.
“Just about the best-looking pitcher this side of Strasburg. But it’s almost certainly preferable to be the best-pitching pitcher. To do that, you have to pitch. The same caveat applies to a lot of Padres, but none more than Cashner.”
Carlos Zambrano is still searching for a big-league contract this spring while pitching for Venezuela in the WBC according to Hardball Talk. Meanwhile, Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports Big Z could pitch in Japan or Taiwan if he doesn’t catch on with an MLB team by the end of spring camp.
Zambrano pitched so poorly for the Marlins through 20 starts last season (5-9, 4.54) he was demoted to the bullpen in late June, finishing the season
(7-10, 4.49) with an 88 ERA+.
Barring injury, however, I think Zambrano lands an MLB offer soon enough– even if he’s so-so in the WBC. With so many teams starved for starting pitching, the 31-year-old should become an attractive arm at an affordable price.
Cubs scouts were on hand to watch left-hander Scott Kazmir throw in a B Game with the Indians this week. As Matt Snyder of CBS Sports points out, Kazmir is only 29-years-old.
“Remember, this is a two-time All-Star who led the American League in strikeouts in 2007 when he was only 23. He appeared to have long-lasting ace potential until he fell apart from 2009-11, culminating with a 17.02 ERA in five starts for Triple-A Salt Lake in 2011. His major issue was control, as Kazmir walked 20 hitters in 15 1/3 innings during that short Triple-A stint. The four spring innings this year are far too small a sample to reach any firm conclusion, but the zero walks so far are a great sign.”
I thought the Cubs would give Kazmir a stronger look last offseason considering they had Randy Wells, Andy Sonnastine and Chris Volstad as rotation possibilities. But if Kazmir shows signs of becoming his old self again, there’s certain to be plenty of competition to land his services.
It took 10 days to lay 100,000 square feet of sod at Chase Field in Arizona. The cool part is USA Today Sports posted a time-lapse video of the recent event, and who doesn’t enjoy a little time-lapse baseball video?
From what I gather, the diamond needed a makeover after hosting a Monster Truck Rally in January, and I’m sure MLB wanted the field to present well for the the World Baseball Classic, which gets underway next week.
Group D of the tournament (USA, Canada, Mexico, Italy) begins play at Salt River Fields in Talking Stick on Thursday, but then switches venues to Chase Field Fri, Sat & Sun.