Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Different game here

When his team faced the Giants, who are in first place and won a trophy last fall, Bud Black brought squirt guns to the fray. Not just the glut of past-their-prime vets and 4A types in Black's cast. We mean the young squirts whose swings, scouts say, need work.

Scene: Late in the last game, Anthony Rizzo was due to bat off Giants lefty Javier Lopez. Rizzo had looked like Brad Hawpe on this day -- Hawpe at his worst this year -- and his line read .149/.286/.277 with 36 whiffs in 94 at-bats.

Black sat Rizzo and sent up righty Logan Forsythe, who also toted a starved stat line (.163/.208/.204).

Forsythe got a walk, which counts as a big win these days, for either him or Rizzo, two rookies whose hacks have lack.

Scouts say Rizzo needs to trim his swing. He does some things well but the whole is too long. Hence the late fouls on pitches clocked at 90-92 mph. As his woes got worse so did his swing, say some scouts, but not all. Forsythe's swing has a flaw like the "cast move" of a golf hacker. For their part, Black and his coaches must know about these things (plus much else 'tween the ears of these lads) and do what they can, but the game is fast here. It's not a good place to fix things. At times, it can be a bad place to try to fix big things.

At 21, Rizzo is well past many his age. Just last month, some of his age peers were drafted. Grown big leaguers envy his brute strength. It may not be a long stretch to say he's playing with house money.  Long hack aside, scouts aren't backing off their talk that he can become an average big leaguer (or better).

Last month when Rizzo rose to the Padres, two scouts said his swing was like that of big league vet Adam LaRoche, also a lefty who plays first. Too bad for Rizzo that his stats now look like those of this year's LaRoche, who was at .172/.282/.258 with the Nats when he got hurt in late May. Last year, when pitchers reclaimed turf throughout the majors, LaRoche piled up 172 whiffs -- but in all he is a .267 hitter who has four years with at least 25 home runs. (The parks that LaRoche has called home, though, suit all hitters more than San Diego's does.)

When did LaRoche, now 31, reach the bigs? At age 24, same as Forsythe.

Even though Forsythe put up big stats on their farm, the Padres worked with him to tweak his swing last year. He is strong, even reached the top deck in Petco last winter. Yet, his bat barrel goes up, just as he goes to hit the ball. The move lards his swing, scouts say.

Down there -- the minors -- such glitches matter less. Far less. Forsythe hit .326 in 46 games with Tucson and had eight home runs. In the Cal League he reached base 47 percent of his chances.

Causing Padres fans to pant, Rizzo hit .365 in 52 games with Tucson, totaling 16 home runs, 20 doubles and 63 RBI.

The old line you've seen here, that a pineapple can could hit .300 with power in Tucson, owes to the desert air that adds speed and length to drives, and the wind that blows balls over the fences there. What's more, the pitching in the Pacific Coast League stinks extra bad this year, so it's anyone's guess what good it does a prospect to wail away there for six months. Up here at Petco National Park, at a time when pitchers rule the majors, it's a whole new game. The finding out can be harsh, but it's needed. The trick is to learn from it and not let it be a weeding out.

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