- Keith Law, ESPN Insider
Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum caused a stir the other day by suggesting that first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro could be sent to the minors if they didn't ... well, I'm not sure what they are supposed to do, because Castro is hitting better than the median National League shortstop and Rizzo has twice as many homers (six) as any other NL first baseman.
Neither guy is lighting the league on fire, but threatening them with a demotion to the minors seems a little draconian, and maybe a sign that the manager's a little in over his head.
But the immodest proposal brings up a better question -- which players around the majors indeed might be better served by a demotion to Triple-A? And which minor leaguers might be in line for an imminent call-up?
Rizzo's stat line this season is heavy on secondary skills; he's walking, and hitting for power, but not making much contact or hitting for average, with a very low BABIP (.171). For most hitters, I wouldn't be concerned with a lower-than-normal BABIP or contact rate in a small sample. In Rizzo's case, however, the Cubs appear to have altered his swing, getting his hands loaded lower and farther back than last year so that he's swinging more up through the ball, which should generate more power but would absolutely reduce contact and lead to more popups, all of which is true so far.
I've been told this kind of swing reflects Sveum's philosophy of hitting, but in Rizzo's case, I didn't think anything in his swing last season needed fixing. The Cubs should let him revert to his 2012 mechanics, which produced a successful half-year in the majors with a good contact rate and plenty of power for a 22-year-old.
The Twins knew they were taking a risk by promoting Hicks two levels and making him their Opening Day center fielder, especially given his history of slow starts, but he's 3-for-51 so far, all singles, with 21 punchouts, and has cost the team nearly a win -- minus-0.9 WAR per FanGraphs -- with his performance so far.
Hicks is struggling against fastballs and doesn't have a hit yet off an off-speed pitch. He has always been a patient hitter, but pitch recognition has been a constant issue; he's required lengthy adjustment times at each level. He's the Twins' center fielder of the future, but there has to be a point where continuing to run him out there to fail becomes counterproductive -- he's hurting the team but also is unable to make the adjustments he needs to develop as a player.
Right now, he's walking more, but hasn't converted those hitters' counts into hits. I'd give him until early May before pulling the plug on the experiment, but there has to be, if nothing else, more hard contact for them to continue running him out there.