Theo Epstein’s and Jed Hoyer’s rebuilding of the Chicago Cubs continued Friday when they acquired highly touted first base prospect Anthony Rizzo and minor league pitcher Zack Cates from the San Diego Padres for pitcher Andrew Cashner and minor league outfielder Kyung-Min Na. For those scratching their heads at the deal, our own Paul Swydan (Padres perspective) and Jason Roberts (Cubs angle) break it down for you over in the main FanGraphs area. Over here, we’re looking at the most immediate fantasy impact, and that really involves Rizzo who now finds himself on his third team in three years.
That’s not to say that Cashner won’t have any fantasy value, but considering the 25 year old will begin the season in the bullpen, his immediate impact is minimal. Thoughts are that he could end up as the 8th inning guy and eventually move into the rotation. If you’re in a league that counts holds, then perhaps you’ll check him out late in your draft.
But back to Rizzo…
Given his profile and recent movement, Rizzo is starting to become a household name these days. He was a key component in the deal that put Adrian Gonzalez in Boston last year, became a hot topic when the Padres acquired Yonder Alonso from the Reds last month, and is now likely the primary reason the Cubs drop out of the Prince Fielder sweepstakes. All that and he hasn’t even played 50 games on the major league level.
After destroying Triple-A pitching in the PCL last year where he posted a .715 slugging percentage with a gaudy 1.159 OPS, Rizzo seemed ready for the big time. True, the PCL is hitter-friendly and several others posted similar numbers, but at just 21 years old at the time, Rizzo was the youngest to do so and projected better than most to be a strong power threat in the majors. His time spent in the show didn’t go very well as he produced a triple slash line of just .141/.281/.242 in 153 plate appearances and struck out more than 30% of the time, but growing pains were expected. He had a tremendous amount of pressure on him to produce and we all know what Petco Park does to the power of left-handed hitters. He hit well in his first game, but began pressing after that and we all know what that does to a hitter.
Playing his home games in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field should help boost his confidence though. According to Jeff Zimmerman’s extreme park factors piece, Wrigley plays very favorably to left-handed power hitters — 119 HR hit by lefties. When Rizzo gets comfortable and the wind starts blowing out, big things are likely to happen.
But before you go running out to grab the youngster in your upcoming draft, you should first acquaint yourself with Bryan LaHair. According to reports by Scott Miller of CBS Sports, Hoyer’s plan is to start Rizzo in Triple-A, while LaHair begins the season as the Cubs’ first baseman. LaHair is also a lefty and is also one of those guys who also pounded Triple-A pitching in the PCL. In fact, he hasn’t posted an OPS under .883 the last three seasons and has a minimum of 25 HR in each of those years (40 total between Iowa and Chicago in 2011). Hoyer also likes the fact that at 28 years old, his maturity and mental make-up might be a bit stronger than those of Rizzo right now.
Given the fact that Lahair has been labeled as a AAAA-type player, it could just be a matter of time before Rizzo ends up with the job all to himself. However, with the rebuilding mode the Cubs are in, there doesn’t seem to be much of a rush. Depending on how Lahair actually performs, there is a chance you’ll see Rizzo up by mid-season. Keeper league owners would be wise to grab him and stash him away, but for re-draft leagues, you can probably wait on him as a possible second half waiver claim.