For those not familiar with this piece, we basically take two players with similar attributes, and put them in a cage WWF (I grew up knowing it as the WWF) style and compare the two to see who we'd rather own.
Eric Hosmer, KC - .232, 14 HR, 60 RBIs, 16 SB ('12) VS. Anthony Rizzo, CHC - .285, 15 HR, 48 RBIs, 3 SB ('12)
Hosmer was a third pick overall in the 2008 draft and ranked as high as the eighth-best prospect by Baseball America. Rizzo was a sixth-round selection in the 2007 draft and soared through the prospect rankings over the last couple years, reaching as high as the 47th-best prospect.
While their Major League power numbers were similar in 2011, their big league experience between first year and second year has been quite polarizing.
Hosmer's hot start in the PCL during the 2011 season earned him a call-up, and those that had him on their roster were not disappointed. His first season in the big leagues was a huge success; he went on to hit .293 with 19 HR, 78 RBIs and 11 SB, leaving many to believe a big 2012 was on its way. It was not the case however, as the dreaded sophomore slump struck. Hosmer consistently struggled throughout the entire 2012 campaign, going on to hit .232 with 14 HR, 60 RBIs and 16 SB.
For Rizzo, his journey was quite the opposite. His hot minor league numbers did not translate well with the Padres in 2011, finishing the year hitting just .141 with one homerun, nine RBIs and two stolen bases. He was subsequently traded in the offseason to the Chicago Cubs where he began the 2012 campaign back in the PCL before getting the call-up for good in late June, finishing the year hitting .285 with 15 HR, 48 RBIs and three stolen bases.
So what does the future hold for these two hulking but athletic first basemen, and which first baseman would you rather have on your team? A lot of it has to do with whether you're in a redraft league, or dynasty/keeper league. In comparing the respective teams they play for, you have to give the edge to the team with the higher payroll; higher payroll equals better free agents. If that's the case, Chicago, while not yet flashing the big bucks, wins. But if you take a look at each team's lineup today, a lineup of Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler and Hosmer is a lot more appealing than a lineup of Starlin Castro, Alfonso Soriano and Rizzo.
So perhaps Kansas City sports a better lineup this year, but what about next year? Will Chicago be ready to open their wallets then? If so, realistically what free agents would be available? Robinson Cano? Both are already hitting where they've been projected to be all along; in the middle of the lineup. In terms of RBI opportunities, while many are predicting a 100-RBI season from Rizzo, call it gut instinct that he'll fall short. Hosmer should have the edge with a better lineup surrounding him.
This does not mean that Hosmer comes without risk. First, was the sophomore slump just that, or was there more than meets the eye? This wasn't just a case of a one or two bad month slump, this was a season long slump where he hit .231 and .232 over the first and second halves. Add to that, his groundball rate increased to over half his balls hit being on the ground (53.6%). Despite posting a poor average last year, however, there's reason to believe much of it was BABIP driven. Besides seeing more offspeed stuff, Hosmer's walk rate actually showed growth, walking nine percent of the time, while maintaining good contact rates. Given his minor league history where his batting eye in the minors has been very good, there's reason for optimism that Hosmer can be a future .300 hitter.
While Rizzo does not have the batting eye that Hosmer possesses, he's showing he's no slouch either. Although his walk rate has decreased over the years, he has shown the ability to draw walks when needed, while also displaying good contact rates like Hosmer. He's also relying on harder hit balls to help produce a high average. What Rizzo also has over Hosmer is true power. Rizzo hit the ball hard last year when he did make contact; what we'd like to see is the flyball percent trend upwards this year. If it does, Rizzo and his career .914 OPS in the minor leagues should easily be a perennial 35 homer first baseman in the Majors.
Whether you have Hosmer or Rizzo on your roster, there's a good chance you should see similar results this year. Both are underrated in terms of speed. We've seen Hosmer actually show growth in that department, stealing 16 bases last year. While Rizzo has not yet seen the same opportunities, he does have the potential to steal double digit bases.
The question is will he ever get the green light? With Rizzo, you're drafting a first baseman that more than likely displays more power than Hosmer over the course of their careers while posting decent averages. However, with Hosmer you get a first baseman who's already shown a power/speed combo, and should see more balanced numbers across the stat sheet, including average; which may be your determining factor on deciding who to select on draft day.