Last season, there was plenty of fanfare when Anthony Rizzo was brought up by the San Diego Padres. He was the prized, power hitting lefty acquired in the Adrian Gonzalez deal and with the Padres removed from playoff contention and looking to save a little face, it was time to see what he could do. Unfortunately for him, the team, and his fantasy owners, the call-up turned into just a quick cup of coffee as Rizzo ultimately flopped. Granted it was just 153 plate appearances, but with a K-rate of 30.1% and a triple-slash line of .141/.281/.242, the 22 year old Rizzo looked over-matched. This year, as we head into spring, the Padres will likely give him every opportunity to win the first base job and while his owners are hoping for him to succeed, Jesus Guzman just might have something to say about it.
For those that weren’t paying attention last year, Guzman, a 27 year old right-handed first baseman (converted from 3B) on his fourth organization since 2006, was called up by the Padres in June to help in the outfield. In 30 quick plate appearances, he impressed enough with his strong plate discipline, low K%, and .310 average that the team wanted to continue giving him a look. This was all right about the same time as Rizzo’s struggles, so when the Padres regular outfielders were healthy, Rizzo got the demotion and Guzman was given a crack at the first base gig. He did not disappoint.
For the month of July, Guzman hit .345 with 3 HR and 18 RBI. He maintained a strikeout rate of 15.0% and a rock solid 8.3% walk rate and looked to be exactly what the Padres wanted/needed at the position. Was he helped by a robust .372 BABIP? Of course he was. But he maintained a .360 BABIP through a total of 271 plate appearances and if you looked at his minor league totals, that mark isn’t too out of the ordinary. Guzman was finally coming into his own, and if it wasn’t for a neck injury that sidelined and hampered him for a good portion of September, his overall numbers would have probably looked even better.
So is Rizzo going to be blocked? Is it going to be his time or is he going to have to continue waiting? He certainly has something to prove in order to win the job; number one, that he can hit major league pitching. His minor league numbers look fantastic, but as was pointed out back in June, the PCL is a massively hitter-friendly league and while Rizzo was indeed crushing the ball, so was everyone else. There’s also the question of how his bat will work in Petco, a ballpark that suppresses home runs by left-handed batters by nearly 40%. He is headed to the Dominican Republic for winter ball this year, so he’s certainly going to get the work in. Now the only issue is whether that work pays off and is enough to push Guzman aside.
The competition should be fierce as both are more than capable hitters. Rizzo is probably the better defender, but Guzman’s maturity and added experience might just be enough to give him the edge. You probably won’t want whomever wins the job as your starting fantasy first baseman, but the guy who ultimately wins the job could turn into a solid corner infield option. Stay tuned for more…