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Cubs optimistic about future with Rizzo at first

Cubs optimistic about future with Rizzo at first

Cubs optimistic about future with Rizzo at first
CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Dale Sveum finally settled on inserting highly touted prospect Anthony Rizzo in the No. 3 spot in the lineup around 6 a.m. CT Tuesday. The Cubs are hoping Rizzo stays there.

The left-handed-hitting first baseman made his Cubs debut Tuesday, but not without first meeting the media in a packed interview room as well as a brief one-on-one session with Sveum.

"He told me I can't hit 10 home runs today," Rizzo said of his conversation with Sveum. "Hitting third today, that's a lot of confidence with me coming up here and him putting me in the three-hole. That's a really good feeling. I'm just part of this team now. It's about jelling and getting along with the guys and building relationships and after that, it's just baseball."

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Baseball is all Rizzo wants to do. This is his second stint in the big leagues after a brief callup last season with the Padres when he hit .141 in 49 games. The Cubs acquired Rizzo in the offseason from San Diego, trading Andrew Cashner. The move reunited Rizzo with Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod, who were in the Red Sox front office when Rizzo was drafted in 2007. Hoyer and McLeod left Boston to go to the Padres, and traded again for Rizzo. Now, Epstein is president of baseball operations in Chicago, Hoyer is the general manager and McLeod is in charge of player development and scouting.

"I do take a lot of responsibility for what happened to him last year," said Hoyer, who was the Padres GM. "It was too early. I'm very confident he'll perform a lot better. He's all of 22 now. It means a lot to me, him coming up now, because I feel I rushed him last year."

The Cubs are just hoping everyone can keep their expectations in check.

"I was the savior last year, too, which is why I think it's easier this year to come up," Rizzo said with a laugh. "Hopefully, this is just a building block and what's here to come in this city and the organization. There are a lot of good things to come and hopefully we can look back and this is one of the first steps."

Rizzo heard the rumors that he might be coming up about a month ago, but was glad the team waited. There were some things he needed to correct at the plate. What happened with the Padres last year?

"Last year in San Diego, I missed everything over the plate," Rizzo said. "I was just trying to do too much. Even this year, I catch myself trying to do too much in one at-bat or one swing and I'll step out and kind of hit myself. This year, my hands are a little lower, little shorter to the ball. It's just preparing every day to put yourself in a good position."

He did just fine at Triple-A Iowa, where he led the Pacific Coast League with 23 home runs and ranked among the leaders with 62 RBIs and a .342 batting average.

Rizzo is the 10th rookie to play for the Cubs this season. The others include Adrian Cardenas, who was optioned to Iowa to make room on the roster. Other rookies who have played for the Cubs this season include Welington Castillo, Steve Clevenger, Blake Lalli, Jairo Asencio, Lendy Castillo, Rafael Dolis, Scott Maine and Blake Parker.

But Rizzo is the most hyped.

"I think last year is going to be really good for him," Hoyer said. "He struggled in the big leagues and had to get through that and had to spend an offseason frustrated because he didn't do what he wanted to do. I think that's part of growing as a player. It gives him good perspective coming up here and makes him hungrier as well to prove some people wrong and get it right this time."

Hoyer and Padres manager Bud Black met with Rizzo at the end of last season and suggested he lower his hands as part of the adjustment that needed to be made. Sveum reinforced that this spring.

"Most good hitters have low hands," Sveum said. "They're closer to the ball, the barrel's closer to the ball. It just makes sense."

The Cubs offense has been scuffling. Why not call Rizzo up sooner?

"The biggest thing for us was that we wanted him to spend a full year in Triple-A," Hoyer said. "Last year, he got a half a season and we felt let's give him another half season. If he had struggled [at Iowa], we wouldn't have done it now."

If Rizzo stays in the big leagues all season, he will have Super Two status, and be eligible for arbitration with less than three years of service. The Cubs were more concerned about making sure Rizzo was ready than his service time.

"He brings everything you want in a hitter -- left-handed, left-handed power, the ability to drive the ball to all fields," Sveum said. "He's a good two-way player, a good defensive player. As much as anything, his makeup and his ability to someday be a leader on this ballclub -- that as much as anything. The 40 or so days I spent with him in Spring Training, you could tell he has that kind of makeup to be a leader for a long time in Chicago."

Rizzo's arrival is a positive sign. The Cubs, who have the worst record in the Major Leagues, haven't had too many positives this year.

"It's one step in the direction we're trying to head to where our young players develop and it's time to stick them in the lineup and see what they can do," Sveum said.

The first baseman got the news during Monday's game, made sure to thank his teammates, then packed his gear and drove the six hours from Des Moines to Chicago, calling it an easy drive. Rizzo's parents, brother and girlfriend were at Tuesday's game. Last year, when he made his debut for the Padres on June 9, he had a group of about 20 friends and family.

"I think a lot is different," Rizzo said of this season compared to last year. "I'm a year older, a year more mature -- people think it's funny when I say that because I'm just a little kid at heart. I know a lot of the guys in the clubhouse. I played with them in Triple-A, I played with them in Spring Training. It's just like walking into a new stadium."

He's not trying to be the Cubs' savior.

"I'm coming up trying to establish myself as a Major League first baseman and an everyday player versus right-handers, left-handers, left-handed specialists coming out of the 'pen, closers," he said. "I want to be in there every day and have my teammates and the coaching staff, and even the fans, in big situations when I'm up there, be confident that I can succeed. I'm just trying to establish myself."

The Cubs can't wait.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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