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updated: 2/20/2013 6:14 PM

International stage awaits Cubs' Rizzo

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  • Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo will take some time away from the team this spring to represent Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic.

      Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo will take some time away from the team this spring to represent Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic.
    Associated Press/2012 file

 
 

In just a year, Anthony Rizzo has gone from hot prospect to international sensation.

Last spring, Rizzo entered his first Cubs camp fresh off his trade from the San Diego Padres, hoping to make the club but knowing he'd more than likely open the season at Class AAA Iowa.

This year, Rizzo went to Arizona not only knowing the starting first-base job was his, but also getting ready to represent Team Italy in this spring's World Baseball Classic.

He says the whirlwind year hasn't changed him.

"My mindset it the same going into spring training," he said. "I still want to come in and get ready, and that's how it is every year. But it's obviously a little easier knowing I'm going to be starting. But I still want to go in and prove I can be elite and just prove myself every day."

Rizzo is off to a good start toward that.

Last year, the Cubs made it a point to get him minor-league at-bats before they called him up in late June. Between Iowa and the Cubs, Rizzo combined to hit 38 home runs and drive in 110.

His final hitting line with the Cubs was .285/.342/.463 for an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .805. Various statistical sites project him at hitting in the low- to mid-30s for home runs this year and driving in more than 100 runs.

Rizzo, a left-handed batter and thrower, also played a solid first base, both with fielding the ball and making sound decisions.

At 23 years old, of course there are areas for improvement.

"Be a better teammate; be a better leader," he said." Obviously, I'm young overall. Not be a vocal leader but lead by example. I think that will take care of the rest of the game.

"The numbers will obviously speak for themselves, hopefully, but I want to hit and be a Gold Glover and all that, but I think the byproduct of that is all the hard work."

Although he said he hasn't changed his approach, he said his life has changed in one respect.

"I can help touch people more, especially coming from cancer; I can help out cancer patients and people who have gone through it and families who are going through it," said Rizzo, who overcame Hodgkin lymphoma, which was diagnosed in 2008, when he was in the Boston Red Sox system. "That's a big part of helping out people. I can give back a lot more and a lot easier now that some people know who I am.

"As far as day-to-day life, I do the same things I would do every day. I'll never change that aspect, I don't think."

Who's coming:

While Rizzo looks to be a fixture at first base for years to come, the Cubs have an intriguing prospect in Dan Vogelbach, their second-round draft pick in 2011.

Vogelbach, who could start this season with the Kane County Cougars or at Class A Daytona, belted 10 homers last year in 37 games at Class A Boise after hitting 7 in 24 games at Mesa in rookie ball.

The 20-year-old Vogelbach has been listed at 6-feet and 250 pounds, but by all accounts, he looks to be in great shape. The Cubs do not have plans to move him off first base, and at this point, they have the luxury of time.

A note about rankings:

At the end of these positional stories, we're ranking National League players at each position. I'm using wins above replacement as one tool. A player with a lower WAR may be ranked ahead of other players, but that's the subjective nature of the rankings.

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