Tis the season for call-ups
Around this time every year ESPN Chicago welcomes ESPN bigwigs, sponsors and national talent to our hood for a Wrigleyville rooftop event.
There's always a lot of "Welcome to our beautiful city, try our many bars and pubs, check out our historic ballpark, delight in our unique, all-you-can-eat-and-drink rooftop game-watching experience. Oh and sorry about our crap baseball team."
This year's outing, Tuesday against the Mets, was shaping up to be more embarrassing than usual. ESPN radio hosts like Scott Van Pelt, Ryen Russillo and both Mikes, along with a handful of the company's brass, all coming to town to watch the worst team in baseball. A team that's on pace to post a franchise-record 107 losses. (And lemme tell you, it takes some real potent fail-sauce to break a Cubs record for futility.)
Usually I count on a combination of polish sausage and bottomless Goose Island beers to keep our visitors' eyes off the game, but a recent development has me actually considering letting them watch. You see, Monday the Cubs called up hot-hitting first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and he's set to make his Chicago debut Tuesday night.
In his 69½ games with Triple-A Iowa (he was pulled midway through Monday's contest), Rizzo was batting .342 with 62 RBIs and a Pacific Coast-leading 23 home runs. Despite a disappointing 49-game stint with the Padres last season, Cubs players and fans alike have high expectations for his second foray in the major leagues.
The Cubs' promising young shortstop, Starlin Castro, is so excited to play alongside Rizzo, he did the unthinkable Monday: He talked about a World Series win.
"I guess we'll be the face of the franchise -- me, [Rizzo] and a couple other young guys in here," Castro told the Chicago Tribune. "Let's see what we can do. I don't want to go anywhere. This is my family here. I want to win my ring here."
The news of Rizzo's arrival had Cubs fans in a frenzy as well, tweeting out T-shirt ideas ("For Shizzle my Rizzo"), creatively named fan sections (the Rizzervoir) and dramatic proclamations ("Prepare for the Cubs' Rizzurection!"). For frustrated North Siders, Anthony Rizzo is an oasis in the endless desert that is this Cubs season.
Even if Rizzo doesn't get off to a hot start, his development will give Cubs fans a story to follow besides that whole record-setting losses thing. North Siders aren't alone in their desire to look toward the future. A few other fan bases should be getting a look at some hot prospects soon, as well.
On Sunday, Diamondbacks prospect Trevor Bauer was pulled from his Reno Aces start after just 50 pitches and 2⅔ innings. With Arizona starter Joe Saunders on the DL with an elbow strain, it looks like Bauer might make his big league debut Thursday night.
The 21-year-old power pitcher was 7-1 with a 1.68 ERA for Double-A Mobile early this year and 4-0 with a 2.79 ERA in seven starts for Triple-A Reno (not including Sunday's abbreviated outing). Bauer, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 draft, leads all minor league pitchers with 116 strikeouts.
The Toronto Blue Jays may be calling up a promising first-rounder of their own soon, as catcher Travis d'Arnaud continues to impress in Triple-A Las Vegas. In 67 games with the Vegas 51s, d'Arnaud is hitting .333 with 16 home runs and 52 RBIs.
J.P. Arencibia, 26, is having a solid season for Toronto behind the plate but many believe d'Arnaud has a higher upside. If the young backstop continues to excel in Vegas, the Blue Jays may be forced to bring him to the bigs.
The Kansas City Royals are pooh-poohing the idea that outfield prospect Wil Myers could get a call-up sometime soon, but the team is five games out of first place and could turn to Myers down the stretch.
Myers, 21, has hit a combined .329 with 24 homers and 63 RBIs for the Royals' Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. If his hot hitting continues, Kansas City may look to deal outfielder Jeff Francoeur to open a spot.
Success in the minors doesn't always translate on the big league level, so there's a chance a call-up could bring these kids down to earth fast. But for a team like the Cubs, who have absolutely nothing to lose, it makes sense to let the learning process begin.
Rizzo might be the next in a long line of Cubs prospects to shrink under the bright lights of Wrigley Field. (The names Felix Pie, Corey Patterson, Hee-Seop Choi and Bobby Hill come to mind.) On the other hand, he may be the next Starlin Castro, who posted a modern-day record six RBIs in his big league debut and hasn't stopped hitting since.
For Cubs fans, and for the ESPN folks coming into town for Tuesday night's game, the debate alone makes the prospect of baseball on the North Side more palatable. And if Rizzo does live up to the hype, we'll be able to say we were there to see it all begin.
There aren't many things that can top a good polish dog and a beer, but those kind of bragging rights just might.