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SoxProspects News

April 2, 2010 at 10:31 AM

2010 Prospect Previews: Lars Anderson and Anthony Rizzo

Today's edition of the series features the top two first base prospects within the Red Sox organization. Both players are heading into the 2010 season to prove that they can be middle-of-the-order bats down the line at the major league level.

Lars Anderson

Position: First Base
2009 Team: Portland Sea Dogs
2010 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 22

Strengths: With a swing from the left-side of the plate built for Fenway Park, Anderson possesses all of the skills to become an above-average power hitter at the major league level. Highlighted by an advanced, disciplined approach, his smooth stroke whips through the strike zone and covers a lot of the plate. Especially adept at going the other way, Anderson has excellent power to the left-centerfield gap and can drive balls on a line in that spot with what seems like relative ease. Able to stay back and let balls get deep on him, he’s able to wait on pitches and use his exceptional batting eye, controlling the strike zone to go deep into counts. His patience has lead to a high number of walks in his minor league career. As Anderson has matured physically and learned to tap into his natural power, he’s been improving his pull power and has been rifling more and more balls to right field with authority. There’s been more lift in his swing and a focus on attacking inside pitches rather than fighting them. In the field, he handles himself well around the bag at first base and puts in a lot of work prior to games to improve his craft. Anderson brings a strong work ethic and has been highly coachable in his time within the organization, coming up to speed with the organization’s teachings and philosophies very quickly.

Development Needs: 2009 was a difficult season for Anderson in Double-A. Never able to get on track, he struggled with a lingering oblique injury and general expectations stemming from being the consensus number one prospect in the Red Sox organization. At times, Anderson strayed away from what had made him successful at the plate in the past and was off-balance or between pitches during long stretches, failing to produce the consistent, hard contact which had been his trademark rising up through the ranks. Transferring his weight too early, he was mostly reaching for pitches and way out in front. Anderson had a need to improve how he handled advanced off-speed pitches heading into 2009 and, compounded with being unable to square up a lot of fastballs, he saw a drop in his contact rates. As the season wore on, his swing got a little on the long side, and the struggles just seemed to snowball for him. The root of his difficulties appeared to stem from the mental aspect of the game of baseball and dealing with failure for the first time in a professional career. Anderson’s skills and future are still very bright, but improvement in this part of his game is the key need going forward and will determine whether he is able to reach his full potential.

2010 Outlook: With 2009 behind him and a fresh start, Anderson has been putting in his work during camp to prepare for the upcoming season. Although he struggled during game action with the major league club early in spring training, his approach has been much more relaxed, and he’s spoken about bringing a more level view back into his game. Anderson will get another crack at Double-A, and this time around look for a much different hitter. When he’s on, balls fly off his bat towards left field and up-the-middle on a line. Once comfortable and settled in, Anderson starts to turn on balls and loft them out to right-field. Positive signs will be a return of strong contact rates and piling up of extra-base hits. Still young and on a good track, he has something to prove this season and show that 2009 was just a blip on the radar screen. With a strong half of baseball with Portland, Anderson should push towards Triple-A and regain his status as the top hitter coming up through the Red Sox system. Adversity and failure are part of a player’s development and often push better results after dealing with them. 2010 will be the test as to how Anderson is going to bounce back from them.

Anthony Rizzo

Position: First Base
2009 Teams: Greenville Drive/Salem Red Sox
2010 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 20

Strengths: Back at full health and on the field after successful treatment for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Rizzo put together a strong season of development at the plate and showed the type of hitting skills he can bring down with line. A big, strong lefty hitter that has been filling out well, his power potential is above-average and he has been starting to drive the ball with more frequency. He hits the ball well to all fields and will have power to all fields as he continues to mature over the next couple of seasons. Entering the organization with an advanced approach for his age, Rizzo has sharpened it further and flashed strong on-base skills thus far in his minor league career. Like a lot of his peers within the system, he likes to work deep into counts to select the pitch he can drive, and he hangs in at-bats to wear pitchers down. A good athlete for a player his size, Rizzo projects as an above-average fielder and has garnered a reputation within the game as one of the better defensive first basemen in the low minors. Popular with his teammates, he has a presence around the field as a leader and someone teammates look to as an example. Many believe that Rizzo’s ultimate ceiling is that of a middle-of-the-order run producer who will be capable of putting up strong home run totals down the line and add solid defense in a well-rounded game.

Development Needs: As Rizzo rises towards Double-A and enters the upper minors, his approach and pitch recognition are going to be further tested by advanced pitching. He could stand to tighten up against breaking balls and lay off ones in the dirt, especially when he is behind in the count. He strikes out at a decent clip, and improvement here will help him maintain the consistent hard contact he has been able to produce through this past season. Like a lot of young hitters, he has not yet fully tapped into his pull power and turning on the balls on the inside third of the plate. He extends well on pitches out and over the plate, but needs to work on dropping the head of the bat on fastballs middle-in to clean them out to right-field, while incorporating his lower body more into his swing mechanics to produce more lift. Rizzo will need to watch himself from getting too big and losing some of his quickness around the bag. Able to hang in well against lefties so far, he’ll be challenged by those with advanced off-speed pitches, but he gets a good look at them by holding his ground in the batters box.

2010 Outlook: Rizzo finished up 2009 with the Salem Red Sox and will start 2010 back with the team to continue his progression in becoming a polished hitter. He’s looked comfortable this spring and has held his own in brief stints in the major league games. A promising young talent within the organization, Rizzo should be able to build on his half season in High-A and have a good feel for the pitching at this level. Look for Rizzo to display more power once settled in and continue to improve upon driving the ball to all fields. A rise in his home run totals in 2010 will be a very good sign that his natural power is coming more to the surface. Despite missing basically a season of development, Rizzo is on a very fast track within the organization and making a strong ascent towards Double-A at a young age. A speed bump or two can be expected during his development, but the sky seems to be the limit for this potential impact player at the major league level, and 2010 will be a season to make the necessary strides and adjustments to challenge for a promotion during the summer.