Matt Rizzotti is having a dream season. The first base prospect has always
been a nice player, but just never put together all of his tools and didn’t come
close to showing the type of power that the Phillies projected him to have when
they drafted him out of Manhattan Community College in 2007. This season though,
Rizzotti is having such a big season that even players on other clubs are aware
of how his dream season is going. When Yankees prospect Justin Christian played
against Rizzotti at Double-A this season, he made a point of letting Rizzotti
know that he had taken notice of him.
"Any time he [Christian] got on base, he would say ‘it’s good to see
you’re still dreaming’," laughed Rizzotti. "And he meant it in a nice
way. He was saying ‘good for you’, because eventually, you’re probably going to
have to wake up."
Rest assured that if opposing players realize how far Rizzotti has come,
opposing teams have come to the same realization. As names were flying
back-and-forth prior to the trade deadline and the Phillies were closing in on
acquiring Roy Oswalt from Houston, Rizzotti’s name came up as part of the
package that would head to the Astros in exchange for Oswalt. Rizzotti took all
of the rumors surrounding the situation in stride, but admitted that it was
pretty heady stuff. "It was pretty cool. Someone actually called me, saying
my name was mentioned on ESPN. That was first for me and that was pretty
cool," admitted the 24 year-old prospect. "It’s one of those things
that truthfully, I try not to even think about it. I wish you could believe me
when I say that. My name being mentioned on ESPN was pretty cool and I think
that’s every person’s dream – any athletes dream – just to get mentioned on
ESPN, because we watch it all the time."
In fact, Rizzotti’s season has gone so well and has been so much like a
whirlwind that it took him a little while to realize just how far he had come.
It took him about seven innings into his first Triple-A game to even really
appreciate the position that he had moved himself into. "I was standing on
first base, just throwing groundballs to the infielders and it hit me like a ton
of bricks," remembered Rizzotti. "I was just standing there and all of
a sudden, I just had to stop. The whole season just sort of flashed in front of
my eyes and it just so happened that the whole thing ended and I was standing on
first base in a Triple-A game and that’s just how my season’s been going."
When a player goes from being a .268 hitter averaging eight home runs per
season in the minors to a guy whose offense carries him from High-A Clearwater
all the way to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in one season, you have to assume that he
found some key to it all. For Rizzotti though, his approach is the same, his
mechanics are the same, but how he prepared for the season is different and it’s
what he believes has led to his success. "I got myself a trainer. I did
everything in the off-season that I had to do to get in baseball shape and I
basically owe it all to him and that working out," said Rizzotti.
All young players have to make adjustments throughout their career. Moving
from level-to-level in the minors brings different challenges that a player
faces. Most players believe that the move from A-ball to Double-A is the
toughest of the moves and when Rizzotti made the move this season, it was
thought that he would most likely come back to Earth, at least temporarily,
while he adjusted to the pitching at the new level. Rizzotti’s stay on Earth
lasted just two days and in his third game, he came up with two hits to put his
average at an even .300 and it would never fall below that level again while he
was with Reading. "That’s [Double-A ball] your first taste of if it’s a
fastball count, you get your first taste of off-speed stuff. Somehow, I just
adjusted to it quickly and continued on with my season."
One of the new situations that Rizzotti has had to face this season arose
when he arrived at Triple-A, where Lehigh Valley fan favorite and veteran minor
leaguer Andy Tracy was entrenched at first base. Rizzotti’s appearance bumped
Tracy to the bench against National League teams when the DH wasn’t being used.
Tracy, who is known for helping young players, took it in stride, which helped
to make an uncomfortable situation a little easier to handle. "When I got
here, I was just trying to mingle with the team, because I know the the guys,
but I don’t really know the guys. And to sum up the situation, when I got
up, I heard a few cheers. When Andy Tracy pinch-hit, I watched almost every lady
in the crowd do this outrageous dance and everyone was cheering. It’s pretty
cool to have that and I wish that I can get to that status that he has,"
said Rizzotti in a respectful way.
While everyone is ready to crown Rizzotti as a newly hailed prospect because
of his offense, his defense has always been an afterthought when people mention
just how good he can be. Some believe that Rizzotti is best suited to play for
an American League club, since his defense could always be a question mark,
while others believe that he may need to be moved to the outfield. Rizzotti’s
defense has actually gotten better, because he’s worked hard on learning the
nuances of first base and believes that he can be better than he is right now.
It’s also worth remembering that people were saying many of the same things
about Ryan Howard when he was coming through the Phillies system and through
hard work, Howard has turned himself into a pretty solid defensive first
baseman. Howard took those comments as a challenge and that’s much the same way
that Rizzotti views them. "That’s something that I take personally. I
actually like to hear that, because it’s that old thing that if you tell me that
I can’t do it, all I want to do is just prove you wrong," said Rizzotti in
a defiant tone. "I’m trying to do whatever I can to get better."
As for changing positions, Rizzotti is open to learning a new position and
joked that he would even be willing to catch if it’s what the Phillies wanted
him to do. While catching is out of the equation, a move to one of the corner
outfield spots isn’t and perhaps Rizzotti will be learning a new spot in the
Florida Instructional League, but he’s not focusing on that just yet. Instead,
he’s out early taking groundballs at first and doing what he can to improve his
game for right now.
Rizzotti’s mechanics are a bit unique; he leans heavily on his back leg in
the box and uses that to generate power. His swing is generally a sweet and
somewhat compact swing and he’s hit a lot of balls right back through the middle
since arriving at Lehigh Valley. One of the things that Rizzotti also does
pretty well is to show some plate discipline and he’s shown the ability to not
try to do too much with outside pitches, preferring instead to either let them
go by or just hit them back through the middle. It’s taking him a little longer
to find his way around Triple-A pitching than it did around Double-A pitching,
but there’s no cause for concern. It will be interesting to see how Rizzotti
fares the rest of the way with Lehigh Valley, but there’s no denying that his
off-season work regimen has improved his approach to the game and that he has
put himself squarely among the better prospects in the Phillies organization.
Matt Rizzotti’s career stats