While with the Boston Red Sox, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer drafted Anthony Rizzo in the sixth round of the 2007 MLB amateur draft. After taking the general manager position with the San Diego Padres in 2009, Jed Hoyer acquired the young slugger after the 2010 season, along with three other prospects in exchange for All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
The Chicago Cubs hired Epstein to be their president of baseball operations in October 2011, and he shortly thereafter named Hoyer as general manager. Soon after, almost predictably, in January of 2012, the Cubs acquired Rizzo from the Padres in exchange for right-handed starting pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-Min Na. The reunion was complete; you see it’s been a long journey for the former Red Sox top prospect, but 2014 proved to be the young slugger’s breakout season as he put it all together, emerging as one of the best players in baseball.
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After playing 136 games combined between 2011-2012 for the Padres and Cubs, respectively, 2013 was a disaster for the young first baseman. Rizzo had a putrid slash line of .233/.323/.419, and a laughable slash line against lefties of .189/.282/.342. Expected to be the pillar of the Chicago offense, batting third in the lineup, that wasn’t going to get it done, especially after showing so much promise in his short time in the majors and his minor league career (.303/.372/.542 – 445 games).
The 6’3, 240-pound, first-time National League All-Star took a huge step forward this season, assuming a leadership role with his teammates and becoming a spokesperson for the organization. The slugger seems to have made the necessary adjustments.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rizzo ranked fourth in runs created this past season, while improving his batting average 53 points and his OPS from .742 in 2013 to .913 in 2014. The laughable slash line against lefties was raised exponentially, as well, to .300/.421/.507 – a large factor in the MVP-caliber season he put forth. A complete player, the Fort Lauderdale native was amongst the top five in the league in total chances and only made nine errors at first base in 140 games. Even after missing time the final month of the season with a lower back strain, Rizzo finished second in homers with 32, tenth in runs scored with 89, ninth in walks and third in OPS, only behind NL MVP candidates Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton.
With Rizzo at the center of this young club and one of the game’s best managers reportedly set to take over in the coming days, optimism has never been higher at the Friendly Confines. Even prior to the Joe Maddon news, Epstein shared his thoughts on 2015 with reporters at his end-of-the-year press conference.
"“We proved we can be very competitive within this division and when you have a chance to compete you should set your sights high and that means our goal is the NL Central title next year.”"
The Cubs have built a core that’s ready to sneak up on some teams in what has become the toughest division in baseball. With help in the majors already in the form of outfielder Jorge Soler, highly-ranked prospect Javier Baez and established middle infielder Starlin Castro, the North Siders seem to have something brewing – and that’s without the likes of the team’s 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant, who is expected to join the team at some point next season.
At only 25 years old, Rizzo will be the center piece of this offense, and the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. And that, Cubs fans, is cause for hope.