Being a Chicago Cubs fan is a tough pill to swallow. After years of oppressive losing, we’ll get a ray of hope (in my lifetime those rays have been winning seasons like 2003, 2007, and 2008, and prospects like Corey Patterson and Felix Pie). But none of those have yet brought us the baseball catharsis we all want: A World Series championship. And who’da thunk it, shiny new beacon of light, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, will not singlehandedly bring that, either.
Rizzo’s first start for the Cubs is tonight at Wrigley Field against the New York Mets. After lighting up scoreboards across Triple-A the last couple seasons, Rizzo has nothing left to prove in the minors. Yes, he struggled last year while called up by the San Diego Padres, but since being sent back to their Triple-A affiliate and being traded to the Cubs, he’s been even better. Those 23 home runs and 1.110 OPS are certainly exciting given how miserable the Cubs’ offense has been this year.
But don’t get too giddy. After all, this is still the same Cubs team with a .342 winning percentage. Even if he replicates his Triple-A production in the majors, Rizzo will only be worth a few extra wins from here until the end of the season. He’ll also have to deal with crushing expectations from irrational fans and media. I reiterate: The Cubs are going nowhere this year except the top of the 2013 Draft board.
Where Rizzo’s value lies is in how he fits into the changing organizational culture the Cubs — spearheaded by the new front office brain trust of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McCleod — have started this year. For the first time I can remember, they have a stock of interesting offensive prospects – Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur, Junior Lake, Josh Vitters, 2011 first round pick Javier Baez, and the newly added Cuban prospect Jorge Soler and 2012 first rounder Albert Almora — but the Cubs’ pitching prospect cupboard is laughably barren. Even if all these hitters develop the way the Cubs hope (they would be lucky if one or two realized their potential), and they create a formidable core with 22-year-old All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro (some might), the team would still need a windfall of pitching help to contend.
So remember, even if Anthony Rizzo reaches star status, something that is never assured even for the best prospects, the Cubs won’t be much better until their other young hitters ripen and they import some quality pitching into the organization. Relax, lay off the Kool-Aid, and enjoy what the kid can do on a diamond.