Anthony Rizzo ready for big leagues

Updated: June 27, 2012, 12:43 AM ET
By Doug Padilla | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- The future has a permanent grin and a memory bank that should make this transition to the major leagues much better than the last one.

The Chicago Cubs made official Tuesday what widely was reported one day earlier: Anthony Rizzo is on the major league roster after a nearly three-month wait filled with promise, hype and some of the best offensive numbers at Triple-A.

"I'm here to stay," Rizzo said before the Cubs hosted the New York Mets. "I'm just going to work hard every day, learn, get better, go through the ups and down of a baseball player, the nicks and bruises."

To make room on the roster, Adrian Cardenas was optioned to Triple-A Iowa.

For his first big-league game in a Cubs uniform, the left-handed hitting Rizzo was in the No. 3 hole in manager Dale Sveum's lineup. In an ideal world, Sveum would like to lock Rizzo into that position, but general manager Jed Hoyer suggested that lineup spots aren't quite set.

"I'd be surprised if he's etched in stone at third," Hoyer said. "I'm sure he's going to move around the lineup quite a bit. That's where he's starting today but it could be anywhere over the next couple days."

The expectation is Rizzo is too good of a hitter and power threat to not end up settling into the No. 3 spot eventually.

"He brings everything you want in a hitter: left-handed, left-handed power, the ability to drive the ball to all fields," Sveum said. "He's a two-way player, very good defensive player. And as much as anything, I think his makeup, his ability to someday be a leader on this ballclub. That's as much as anything in the 40 or so days I spent with him in spring training, you could tell he has that kind of makeup to be a leader to be a long time."

Despite Rizzo's gaudy numbers at Triple-A for a second consecutive season, nobody is expecting this to be a seamless transition, not even Rizzo. The idea, though, is that he develops into a cornerstone that Cubs teams of the near future can be built around.

As of now, the club's core group would appear to include Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija, along with Rizzo. Success isn't guaranteed, though, and the club's newest addition wouldn't have it any other way.

He said his struggles last season during a 49-game call-up with the San Diego Padres was both humbling, but possibly one of the best learning experiences he endured.

"I think a lot's different," said Rizzo, who batted .141 with one home run and nine RBIs in 128 at-bats with the Padres. "I'm a year older, a year more mature. A lot of people think it's funny that I say that because I'm just a little kid at heart, but I know a lot of these guys in the clubhouse now."

Rizzo's promotion Tuesday is the perfect storm for a fan base desperate for something to wrap its arms around. Forget the club's World Series drought, just the simple fact that the Cubs already are 23 games under .500 has created an anticipation for his arrival.

He was batting .342 at Iowa with 23 home runs and 62 RBIs in 70 games and will join a team that ranks 11th in the National League in batting average at .245, 12th in home runs with 59 and 13th in RBIs with 253.

"I think it's great to be this excited," Hoyer said. "I hope it comes with the understanding that there's going to be ups and downs. It's hard to find players that come up and never struggle. When they do that they're usually in the Hall of Fame so he's going to have his ups and downs.

"He's going to make adjustments. All players do that and so I love the fact that people are excited. To me it sort of gives, I don't know what the exact right word is, but it gives hope."

Add the team's offensive struggles to the mounting defeats and Rizzo's offensive potential and the stirring equation starts to become clearer. But the most buzz-worthy factor when it comes to Rizzo is the fact that he represents the hopes of a better future maybe even more than Castro does.

The Cubs are in the midst of a rebuilding project behind president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Hoyer, and Rizzo is one of their hand-picked talents to turn around the team's fortunes.

The Red Sox drafted Rizzo when Epstein and Hoyer were in Boston's front office. Then Hoyer traded for Rizzo when he moved on to be the Padres general manager. When Epstein and Hoyer arrived in Chicago this offseason, one of their first moves was to bring Rizzo along by working out a trade package with the Padres that required hard-throwing Andrew Cashner to head west.

"It was a hard decision trading Anthony for Andrew," Hoyer said. "(Cashner) has a great arm and I think he's going to be a really good pitcher. But we felt like we needed those building block players to sort of stack on top of each other to create the kind of team we want."

As essentially the hand-picked guy of Epstein and Hoyer, it lends its own amount of pressure, but Rizzo sees it as more of a blessing than a curse.

"They drafted me when I was young; I was under the radar in high school and they drafted me and believed in me and I worked my way up with the Red Sox, got traded to San Diego obviously and here now," Rizzo said. "They believed in me. A lot of people after last year, after the struggles, could have written me off easily, but the people that know me closely know that's a fluke and hopefully that will be overcome this time around."

Indeed, there seems to be some impressive maturity on display for a 22-year old. Instead of running away from what went wrong last season, Rizzo embraced it and is now excited to have things turn out different this time.

"Last year in San Diego, I missed everything over the plate," Rizzo said. "I was just trying to do too much. Even this year, I catch myself trying to do too much down there in one at-bat or one swing and I'll step out and kind of hit myself. Now this year my hands are a little lower, a little shorter to the ball. But it's just preparing yourself every day to put yourself in a good position (for success)."

Next in line for promotions are guys like Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters and Junior Lake. Hoyer admitted that he likes it when new guys arrive on the scene with so much pomp and circumstance and he wants it to become a semi-annual thing. But there's that crucial step that has to happen first.

"You have to earn getting up here as a minor league player," Hoyer said. "Anthony certainly forced our hand there's no question. He went down there put up as good of numbers as any player in the minor leagues and I think that's the way it should be. Players shouldn't be promoted in the minor leagues based on draft status, based on trades.

"I don't think we could look our players in the eye if Anthony hit .250 with nine homers and we promoted him to the big leagues. What are we saying to the rest of the organization? I think now you look at his numbers and what he did, it's pretty much impossible to argue with the fact he earned it. It has to be indisputable why you got moved up and certainly Anthony did that."

Doug Padilla

Chicago White Sox beat reporter
Doug joined ESPN Chicago in July 2010 and covers the Chicago White Sox for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN Radio 1000.

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