By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) None of us have any idea whether Anthony Rizzo will play well the next few months in his pressurized Chicago inaugural season. Time will of course tell. But last night wasn’t about the reality of the unknown.
It was about the arrival of real, material hope. A middle of the order bat? A left-handed run producer? These items haven’t existed in years for the Cubs, and especially not in the body of a 22-year-old kid with sky high upside. The man is walking, swinging hope.
There’s a difference between being excited to watch a shiny new thing arrive on the scene, and being irrationally, blindly optimistic about what the results will be. It’s a key clarification. I’ll have this same feeling when Trevor Bauer debuts for the Diamondbacks, the same feeling I had getting to watch Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Like when Starlin Castro and Gordon Beckham arrived, it’s about putting your eyes to the task of discerning what might really be possible.
And as far as debuts go, last night will work. A couple well-struck if questionably ruled hits, certainly aided by official scorer Benevolent Bob Rosenberg operating at the height of his generosity. There were lots of pitches seen, some solid defense, aggressive base running, and a pie in the face. There was the requisite Q&A about Wrigley and the arrival. “Awesome” was a handy word.
We’d heard, and read, that Rizzo’s hands were supposedly lower, his swing supposedly shorter, the enormous hole in his strike zone (low and in) supposedly smaller. We got our first chance to see.
The swing is certainly different, the stance clearly altered. And how about that funky, gangster lean-back stance? There’s a touch of Eric Davis to it, a hint of Mickey Tettleton with the limp wristed bat hold, but really it’s uniquely his.
So how about we make no snap judgments, for a while. I’m in the information acquisition business on this kid. He’s a great excuse to watch a team that hasn’t offered much worth seeing.
Rizzo is also going to stand as the most blatant touchstone yet by which to gauge the new regime. Jason McLeod drafted him, Theo Epstein fell for him, Jed Hoyer traded for him twice. Three teams have had Rizzo’s rights, all tied to Wrigley’s power trio. Are they right about a guy they believe in to their core, both analytically and personally?
Other items by which to judge the new bosses so far include, in no particular order, the following:
- Dale Sveum’s moves, quotes, and demeanor.
- Back end rotation experiments like Chris Volstad and Travis Wood.
- Low cost veteran reclamations like Ian Stewart and David DeJesus.
- Cast-off Hendry guys deemed unworthy like Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner.
- What they can accomplish, if anything, with leftover bad money like Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Marmol.
- The signability and early returns on first rounder Albert Almora.
- The progress and plan for expensive Cubans Jorge Soler, and Gerardo Concepcion.
Maybe you have more. But none of these items will be as readily dissectible or overtly followed as the major league performance of Rizzo.
In spring training, his at bats were the premiere times I stopped multitasking and made a point to watch the Cubs with clear eyed focus. It’s nice to have that impetus back.
And for now, we’ll stop right there, allowing a young ballplayer to show his skills and smarts a time or two around the league.
Welcome to the show, hope.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am–1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show and Sundays from 9am–Noon CT on Hit And Run.