(CBS) – When Theo Epstein took over as Cubs president of baseball operations in October of 2011, he had a very clear goal: to build an organization that enjoyed sustained success.
To do so, Epstein said he and his team would need to revamp the Cubs’ entire farm system. In the roughly 18 months since he came to Chicago, Epstein has done just that. Heading into the 2013 season, the Cubs’ farm system has been ranked as high as fifth in all of baseball.
Though he’s no longer considered a prospect, Anthony Rizzo, an Epstein product, will be a major factor in the Cubs’ building a system that can have sustained success.
“I believe in Anthony Rizzo,” Epstein told The Mully and Hanley Show. “I would bet on this guy’s future.”
Epstein and Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer drafted Rizzo while together in Boston in 2007. After Hoyer left the Red Sox for the Padres, he then traded for the left-handed-hitting first baseman. When Epstein and Hoyer reunited in Chicago before last season, one of their first moves was to again bring Rizzo with them.
The 23-year-old Rizzo played 87 games for the Cubs in 2012, his rookie season, batting .285 with 15 home runs and 48 RBIs.
“I believe in him as a player and a person,” Epstein said. “But before we start talking about being elite, it’s important to come back and have an excellent sophomore season that shows some growth and shows the ability to adjust back to the league when the league adjusts to you. The good news is this kid is as humble and hard-working as anybody and wants it as much as anyone.”
When asked if Rizzo has the potential to be one of the game’s greatest first basemen, Epstein’s response was an interesting one.
“I think he has a chance to be,” Epstein said. “He’s got a lot of growth opportunity remaining and he needs to grow. The bar is set so high at first base. To be a truly elite first baseman, just because of the quality of the position and the fact that everything in baseball is relative to that position, he’s gotta get on base a ton. He’s gotta have a lot of game power. He’s gotta continue to be a well-rounded player and maintain the defense and base-running and athleticism that he has now as he continues to grow.”
As the 2013 season approaches, Epstein said Cubs fans can expect a better product than what they saw on the field in 2012.
“We’re undeniably deeper and have more talent on the pitching staff than we had last year probably at any point, but especially towards the end after the deadline deals and the injuries, we really weren’t throwing out a representative pitching staff,” Epstein said. “So, with the acquisitions we’ve made we now run seven deep in our starting rotation and we’ve added a quality piece or two to the bullpen.”