Chicago Cubs' Rizzo up with with best first basemen
The National League has three bona fide superstars playing first base.
The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo is one of them.
While Rizzo ranks behind the Reds' Joey Votto and the Diamondbacks' Paul Goldschmidt in wins above replacement (WAR) -- 7.4 for Votto and Goldschmidt and Votto last year to 5.5 for Rizzo -- he also has emerged in so many ways as the face of the Chicago Cubs franchise.
That's true of his on-the-field performance and his off-the-field charitable works.
Rizzo played in 160 games last season, putting up a line of .278/.387/.512 for an .899 OPS. He hit 31 homers, drove in 101 and was hit by 30 pitches. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Rizzo also stole 17 bases.
He made the National League all-star team for the second straight year and was fourth in voting for the Most Valuable Player Award, behind winner Bryce Harper, Goldschmidt and Votto.
Rizzo spent the early days of spring training picking the brain of outfielder Jason Heyward, the team's big free-agent prize. Now at the ripe old age of 26, Rizzo might find teammates coming to him for advice.
"I just look at is as conversation," he said. "The more information you can gather and process, the better off you are."
Rizzo may have stirred some waves at the end of the 2014 season when he said the Cubs' goal for 2015 season was to compete for the NL Central title. That was just as the Cubs were finishing '14 with a mark of 73-89.
Although they finished third in the Central last year, the Cubs had 97 victories, third most in major-league baseball.
Rizzo seems to have bought into manager Joe Maddon's approach about focusing on the "process" rather than the end result. So the talk isn't so bold this spring.
"I really feel like we're in the same position we were in last year," Rizzo said. "We know what we're capable of doing. It's about going in this year and doing exactly what we need to do again. My biggest thing is April. It's not easy playing at Wrigley in Chicago in April."
With Rizzo being a stalwart as far as playing time goes, there hasn't been much need for a "backup" first baseman on the Cubs. The team's website doesn't lists anyone under Rizzo on the depth chart, but the Cubs have it covered.
Javier Baez can shift from the middle infield. He got one game of action at first last season, as did Kris Bryant.
In the pipeline is big Dan Vogelbach, who has 60 minor-league home runs over five seasons to go with a line of .284/.382/.473.
If Rizzo stays healthy, it's difficult to see a spot on the major-league roster for Vogelbach, who may wind up finding his future in the American League as a first baseman-designated hitter. This year, the 23-year-old Vogelbach is the likely starting first baseman at the Cubs' Class AAA Iowa affiliate.
• Second in a series analyzing each position on the roster.