EXPECT MORE-PREPARED RIZZO TO MAKE IMMEDIATE IMPACT ON CUBS
Anthony Rizzo does not claim to have the big leagues figured out. But he does think he learned from his time with the San Diego Padres last season, enough to correct a few flaws since then, and he appears much better equipped to make an impact this time around with the Chicago Cubs.
While posting ridiculous numbers at Triple-A Iowa -- batting .345 with a .408 OBP and .702 slugging percentage, 23 home runs and 62 RBIs in 69 games -- Rizzo also reduced his strikeout percentage, though he can still get better in his plate discipline.
The 22-year-old has also improved significantly against left-handed pitching, hitting .321 with a .376 OBP and .679 slugging percentage compared to .172/.273/.345 for the Padres last season.
Will many of the home runs he hit in the Pacific Coast League end up as outs in the majors? Undoubtedly. But just as Rizzo is a smarter hitter than he was last time he sampled big league pitching, he is also more mature, less likely to be thrown by the pressure, though it has increased exponentially.
Rizzo is no Kevin Youkilis. Not yet. But the Cubs have been smart not rushing Rizzo up from Triple-A too quickly and his big league teammates are only too eager to have him join the club, excited to see the needed offensive boost he can give them.
While it is still important for everyone to be patient with Rizzo and realize that he is not going to be the polished player this week that he is expected to be over a long major league career, it is not unrealistic to expect that his presence and the anticipation of his arrival will have an immediate and positive impact on the Cubs.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
PRESENT WHAT MATTERS TO WHITE SOX, AND YOUKILIS SHOULD HELP NOW
Kevin Youkilis' best days are behind him, while Anthony Rizzo's career is just about to start. But a declining Youkilis is capable of doing what might take Rizzo years to accomplish: play in the postseason.
That's what it's all about, right? The best thing Rizzo can do is not stink like he did last year in San Diego and make the Cubs slightly more watchable as they lurch toward September.
Youkilis can affect the present. And the present is a wonderful thing.
While the White Sox could stand to bolster their starting pitching, the hitters have fallen off of late, and Youkilis could be a factor in establishing a rhythm from the second spot.
Even before Brent Morel went on the disabled list with a back injury, you could see he wasn't the answer at third base. Given that general manager Kenny Williams already struck out with Orlando Hudson, it's safe to say Youkilis is the last chance to shore up the position.
That's a lot of pressure. Youkilis can handle pressure -- he won two World Series in Boston -- but can he still hit? American League pitchers have less nostalgia for Youkilis' heyday than Boston fans. In his White Sox debut, he went 1-for-4 with a single in a 4-1 loss to Minnesota.
I'm a little worried about Sox fans who think Youkilis will automatically regain his form because he's intense and wants to prove people wrong. I'm not quite sure that's how it works. Youkilis has missed three weeks of the season with back problems and is hitting .233. This could be just a lost year, or maybe he's in decline.
But one way or another, he will affect how this season ends. If he can play adequate defense at third and provide an everyday presence in a lineup rich with slow dudes, streak hitters and sluggers, I think the Sox can take the AL Central.
If he struggles like he has been all season, well, "who's on third" might carry extra meaning for the Sox this season.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.