Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Kevin Thomas email@example.com
PORTLAND - Portland Sea Dogs pitching coach Bob Kipper took his turn throwing batting practice. Anthony Rizzo stepped into the cage, his stance open, holding his bat high and twirling it slightly as he waited for the pitch.
Anthony Rizzo has already hit some tape-measure home runs for the Sea Dogs, and hitting coach Dave Joppie says more will come as he refines his swing. "When it comes together, it's going to be fun," said Joppie.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Just two years ago, Anthony Rizzo was undergoing treatment for cancer, but now he's healthy and moving quickly through the Red Sox farm system, reaching Double-A at age 20.
John Ewing/Staff Photographer
Kipper delivered. Rizzo closed his stance and swung.
The ball landed in the right-field pavilion.
The next one sailed left of the pavilion, still rising, clearing the two-story clubhouse and landing somewhere in Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Kipper dropped his arms to his sides and sighed with a big smile.
The big kid can hit them a long way.
Rizzo, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound first baseman, is a player on the rise -- ranked Boston's No. 8 prospect by Baseball America and No. 4 by soxprospects.com.
Rizzo still has work to do, evident by his .244 average in 42 games since his promotion to Double-A on May 10.
But there are reasons to be excited about Rizzo, who is only 20.
Rizzo signed with the Red Sox after being drafted in the sixth round in 2007 out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., 30 miles northeast of Fort Lauderdale.
As a pro, Rizzo dominated quickly. But then came a serious setback. Just 21 games into the 2008 season, when Rizzo was batting .373 for Class A Greenville, he was diagnosed with limited stage classical Hodgkin's lymphoma.
The high-energy Rizzo had been inexplicably fatigued throughout spring training. Finally, a kidney infection was diagnosed and further tests revealed cancer.
Instead of playing his first full pro season, Rizzo underwent chemotherapy.
"They just told me what I was going to do and hopefully it would be gone," Rizzo said. "Every treatment I did, we just took it full on."
You can't talk about Rizzo, without mentioning those around him, including his parents, John and Laurie, and an older brother, John.
"First of all, he's an amazing kid who comes from a great family," said Laz Gutierrez, the Red Sox scout who signed Rizzo. "They're great people. They did a great job of raising Anthony and his brother."
Before the 2007 high school season began, Gutierrez was not sure the Red Sox would be interested in Rizzo. He was a little heavy and seemed to be only a pull hitter.
"Then I went to see him play in the spring," Gutierrez said. "I saw this slimmer version of Anthony. He wasn't a dead pull hitter any more. He was a guy who had a mature approach, attacking the middle of the field, driving the ball to all fields."
"From there on I fell in love with him. He became my gut-feel guy."
Once drafted and playing in the Red Sox system, others took notice. Scouts who follow Red Sox minor league teams came to Hadlock talking about the first baseman with all the tools.
A SWEET SWING
Sea Dogs Manager Arnie Beyeler met Rizzo when he brought a group of Red Sox minor leagues to the Dominican Republic in the offseason.
"To see him, and the way he worked, and to see his swing, you could tell he's a pretty special kid," Beyeler said.
"He's a very game-savvy kid, a lot of awareness out there. He's been schooled very well. You can tell he's a baseball player. He's very fluid in the field. His hands work well. He's going to be a really good fielder. And he's got a real pretty swing. He hits balls a long ways."
But the cancer diagnoses was a setback. He missed the rest of the 2008 season, undergoing treatments. November, Rizzo was cancer-free, and he focused on getting ready for the 2009 season.
(Continued on page 2)