Cubs

Cubs: Anthony Rizzo wants to be a complete player

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Cubs: Anthony Rizzo wants to be a complete player

Anthony Rizzo already has a long-term contract, an All-Star selection on his resume, a charitable foundation and so many off-the-field marketing opportunities.

The Cubs face-of-the-franchise first baseman wants to be a complete player.

Rizzo is 25 now and has the experience that comes with more than 1,900 plate appearances in The Show. He’s quietly raising his game while rookies Kris Bryant and Addison Russell get used to the Wrigley Field spotlight.

“I don’t ever want to be one-dimensional,” Rizzo said after Tuesday’s 6-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I don’t ever want to be just a hitter. I want to do it all. That’s how we lead this team by example. We go first-to-third. We break up the double play. We run out groundballs that we’re pissed at.

“If we (don’t) all do (it), no one’s going to do it. It’s just about doing everything – all the little things. Everyone wants to just put the emphasis on hitting and fielding, but it’s all the other little things, too, that go into being a complete player and a complete team.”

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Rizzo stole his sixth base this season, already matching his career-high (2013) by April 28. (Even if Dexter Fowler made a coattails motion by his locker after Rizzo pulled off the double steal against Pittsburgh’s Jeff Locke and Francisco Cervelli.)

It probably says more about the Cubs crunching the numbers, taking advantage of pitcher/catcher combinations and sensing opportunities than manager Joe Maddon waving some magic wand to be aggressive.

But coming off a 32-homer season, Rizzo is also hitting .323 with a .477 on-base percentage and looking like one of the few above-average defenders on a team that’s not particularly strong in that department.

After playing on Cubs teams that lost 286 games across the last three seasons, Rizzo will appreciate a 12-7 record in April a little bit more.

“No doubt,” Rizzo said. “Everyone’s more upbeat. We’re not 10 games under .500 going into May. We got a good group. We come to the ballpark and we enjoy each other. We pick up each other and we have fun.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: 1-on-1 with Kyle Hendricks

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 1-on-1 with Kyle Hendricks

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss the impact a full season of Cole Hamels could have on the rotation and the team. And David Kaplan goes 1-on-1 with Kyle Hendricks. Find out which teammate Hendricks says most enjoys striking out in Spring Training.

00:35 - Tony and Kelly break down the potential impact that Cole Hamels can have on the 2019 club. They discuss Hamels' value as a teammate and a leader, his approach to baseball every day, and what the Cubs expect from him every fifth day.

16:56 - Kap goes 1-on-1 with Kyle Hendricks during a walk around a practice diamond at the Cubs facilities in Mesa. Hendricks discusses his excitement for 2019, how he approaches the buildup to the regular season, and how much fun he has facing teammates during spring training.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs still wide open with leadoff spot in 2019: 'If somebody wants to take it, take it'

Cubs still wide open with leadoff spot in 2019: 'If somebody wants to take it, take it'

MESA, Ariz. — Rickey Henderson isn't coming through that door for the Cubs, no matter how much Joe Maddon would like it.

Dexter Fowler isn't, either.

Almost three years to the day since Fowler surprised everybody by walking onto the backfield at Cubs camp in Arizona, the Cubs are still searching for his replacement — a "you go, we go" presence atop the order. 

The Cubs won't have just one guy in that spot in 2019, as Maddon will continue to mix and match with options atop the order. 

It will again to come down to matchups, as Maddon pointed to how Ben Zobrist is a great fit against right-handed pitchers while Albert Almora Jr. is a good bet as the leadoff hitter against lefties. It's also about a need to jumpstart the offense at times, hence why "The Greatest Leadoff Hitter of All-Time" Anthony Rizzo has been put into that spot at various points over the last couple years.

"It's always wonderful to pen one name in there," Maddon said. "Absolutely. I'll never deny that. When Dexter was around, that was outstanding — just put it in there and work from there. But when you don't have it, you try to mix and match it. 

"On-base percentage is huge. Seeing pitches is huge. But I also like a guy that knows how to drive in a run later in the game because here comes 8-9-1, the latter part of a National League game — hitting a pitcher 8th or 9th — it can bleed into an RBI situation.

"It's one of those things where I'd like to have it all. But I say primarily looking for somebody that gets on base, that's a little bit more patient. ... We have all these different candidates. It's gonna look that way again. People tend to get confused — they see different names and think it's not effective, but it was rather effective last year."

Maddon is right.

Even with that second-half fade from the overall offense, Cubs leadoff hitters still combined to lead the National League in average, on-base percentage and wRC (weighted runs created) and finished second in OPS and fifth in slugging percentage.

Last year, Almora was the clubhouse leader in the top spot, with 46 starts (though most came against lefties). Rizzo finished second (31 starts) and Daniel Murphy was third (30), as he started nearly every game he played in a Cubs uniform leading off.

Last spring, there was so much made about Ian Happ going into the new season as "the guy" in the spot, and things got off to a great start when he sent the very first pitch of the season into the right-field bleachers at Marlins Park on Opening Day.

But Happ only started another 6 games in that spot as he went through some early-season struggles in his sophomore year.

It was not all that dissimilar to 2017, when Kyle Schwarber was being labeled the new leadoff hitter in spring, only to eventually struggle to live up to that spot and endure a season of inconsistent offensive performance.

So Maddon won't tab anybody as "the guy" this spring, instead continuing to keep it a revolving door unless somebody steps up. He's open to the possibility that one of the guys currently on the roster grows into that stable, consistent leadoff hitter.

"Of course, but I don't know who that is yet," Maddon said. "We still have a lot of young hitters finding their way. I thought Schwarber for sure a couple years ago was a lock — I really did. Just based on his ability to see pitches and I was basing that more on on-base percentage, setting the table up and again, coming around the next time, hitting with somebody on base.

"Albert has shown to be really good with lefties up there, Zo has shown very good against righties. I'm wide open. If somebody wants to take it, it's yours — take it. But for me right now, I'm expecting to move it around again."

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