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updated: 8/14/2013 7:16 PM

So much riding on struggling Rizzo's shoulders

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  • Anthony Rizzo, who is one of the cornerstones of the Cubs' rebuilding plans, is hitting in the low .230s and struggling at the plate.

      Anthony Rizzo, who is one of the cornerstones of the Cubs' rebuilding plans, is hitting in the low .230s and struggling at the plate.
    Associated Press

 
 

Now is as good a time as any to portray Anthony Rizzo's prolonged slump as a Cubs crisis.

Short term and long term.

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Rizzo is considered a foundation piece in the Cubs' rebuilding process and expected to be at first base in Wrigley Field for a decade.

Not only is Rizzo supposed to be a middle-of-the-order run producer, he should be one of the shining stories.

We're talking about a big, strapping, good-looking young man who also happens to be a cancer survivor, an engaging personality and overall a golden boy if you will.

This is the kind of player that the Cubs can sell to the public even while they struggle to reach mere respectability.

"See," the architects can say, "over there," they can point, "Rizzo is the kind of player and person we will bring to Chicago."

Except that not even the blindest Cub fans -- and myriad throngs roam Wrigleyville on game days -- can accept a .232 batting average as a sign of good times to come.

Rizzo hit the ball hard a couple times Wednesday in Wrigley Field but still went 0-for-3 in Cincinnati's 5-0 victory.

"It's a constant battle right now," he conceded.

It has been since the all-star break, even longer actually. Instead of getting better like a hot-shot should, Rizzo has been slipping toward .200 rather than soaring toward .300.

The power numbers look OK on the stats sheet -- 18 home runs and 65 runs batted in -- but they too have suffered since early in the season.

Rizzo is going in the wrong direction just when the Cubs' offense needs to compensate for the loss of veteran presence Alfonso Soriano, who was recently traded to the Yankees.

That's the short-term consequence of Rizzo's slump.

The long term is the reflection on the Cubs' baseball people -- president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod.

Some combination of these three player evaluators made it a priority to acquire Anthony Rizzo first for the Red Sox, then the Padres and finally the Cubs.

It's easy to see why. Rizzo looks like a quality baseball player, carries himself like a quality baseball player and wants more than anything to be a quality baseball player.

But another hitless day could plunge Rizzo's average into the .220s.

So what does that say about the judgment of Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod? More importantly, what does it say about the gaggle of promising prospects they have assembled in the Cubs' farm system?

It's too early to dismiss Rizzo as a bust, but until he proves otherwise, players moving up through the Cubs' farm system will be suspects as much as prospects.

We have heard so much about the likes of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant.

Those players are only a year or two or three from making major-league all-stars of themselves and World Series contenders of the Cubs.

Right?

Well, we'll see.

One failure -- if that's what Rizzo becomes -- wouldn't confirm an entire program as a failure but it still wouldn't be a good sign.

Anthony Rizzo just turned 24 years of age and the Cubs' decision makers figure to provide him with plenty of time and opportunity to reach the potential they see in him.

Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod don't have much choice because if this particular player fades into oblivion, the faith placed in the braintrust by Cub fans would begin fading with him.

So much of how the Cubs' rebuilding project is viewed depends on how Anthony Rizzo plays.

The last thing the Cubs need is for him to become a Cubbie occurrence.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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