Now that our long national nightmare is over and Anthony Rizzo is making his Cubs debut Tuesday night at Wrigley Field the pressure is on for him to live up to the lofty expectations.
Burdened with the task of saving the Cubs and rising from the basement of the National League is no small feat for the 22- year old first baseman. Having raked in the minor leagues to the tune of a .343 average with 23 homeruns in 70 games, many Cubs fans are expecting the second coming of Albert Pujols.
Thus is the life of a prospect in the Cubs organization.
An organization that has failed to produce a successful Major League hitter since Mark Grace came to the show 25 years ago.
Throw in a litany of failed first round draft picks such as Louis Montanez, Ryan Harvey, Ben Christensen, Brooke Kieschnick, Earl Cunningham, and Derrick May, and you see how Cubs fans have seen their share of flops, busts, and disappointments before.
I have been preaching patience when it comes to Rizzo, and there is a contingent of the fan base that realizes he needed more seasoning with the Iowa Cubs based on his failures when called up with the San Diego last year. He hit .141 with the Padres last season with a single homerun.
With the Cubs in year one of a massive rebuilding mode it didn’t make sense to rush Rizzo and risk the potential long-term damage an early promotion can do to a player’s confidence, (Corey Patterson). A revamped hitting approach for Rizzo, one where he lowered the starting point for his hands, and led scouts to believe a more polished and refined Rizzo will not experience the same struggles he had as a Padre.
Fans of the Cubs will be happy if Rizzo shows continued development and provides a spark to a club that has been struggling to find many bright spots in a season that sees the club languishing in the cellar of the National League Central with a record of 25-48, the worst in the Major Leagues.
The Cubs career for Rizzo begins with a start at first base against the Mets as Cubs cross their fingers and hold their collective breath hoping to witness a new face of the franchise, and not the next in the long chapter of unrealized potential among former Cubs prospects.
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The Cubs front office has been preaching the importance of the MLB Draft for the past few weeks, and when Theo Epstein took over as President last fall his mandate was that the Cubs will be a consistent winner built from successful drafts and player development.
On Monday night, the Cubs took the first step towards fulfilling that mandate when the Cubs drafted Florida prep outfielder, Albert Almora with the sixth overall pick in the MLB draft. Long on the Cubs radar as Theo’s scouting department have watched Almora blossom with Team USA, having been named the MVP in the under-18 Pan Am Games this past summer.
When the Cubs were on the clock presumptive top pick Mark Appel, the power pitcher from Stanford, was still on the board and I had wondered if the Cubs had seen enough of the right hander to be swayed from taking their guy Almora in favor of the polished pitcher.
I would have liked to been in the Cubs war room when they were making their pick to see if Appel was considered, or if they had their mind made up when they woke up that morning. Nevertheless, Almora is a potential All-Star centerfielder with high character and a good feel for the game.
At 6’2’’ and 170 pounds, Almora figures to add some muscle to his frame and fill out as he makes his way through the Cubs minor league ranks and the early comparisons on him are to that of Baltimore Orioles centerfielder, Adam Jones, who has the Orioles battling for AL East supremacy.
Labeled a five-tool player by experts, and possessing a smooth swing and great hand-eye coordination the sinewy outfielder can hit for 25-plus homers while using his incredible instincts and body control to cover a ton of ground in center field. His arm will be a weapon that opposing runners will have to be made aware of before trying to go from first to third on a single or attempting to score from first on a double.
Almora will be the answer to a trivia question years down the road when people ask who about the first player drafted under Theo Epstein’s watch in Chicago.
Now the Cubs will have to face questions from their fans about why they did not take Mark Appel, whom many had pegged going first overall to the Houston Astros. He went two picks later to the Pittsburgh Pirates, so the Cubs will be reminded often whether or not they made the right decision taking the precocious prep bat versus the polished power pitcher.
Theo Epstein and Cubs fans are hoping the play of Almora makes the decision to draft him sixth overall look like a no-brainer rather than the second coming of Corey Patterson.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt
Patrick is a diehard Chicago sports fan and an avid college football fan, particularly the SEC. Patrick is the host of “The Wake-up Call,” a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com every Wednesday morning from 8-10. View his show’s website here.