Saturday, February 5, 2011

ProspectNation 2011: #11 Matt Rizzotti, 1B

Matt Rizzotti is a name that many prospect watchers became familiar with during the 2010 season. The first baseman, who became an all-star in the Double A Eastern League last season, made himself into a prospect with loads of hard work according to his manager in Reading last year, Steve Roadcap.

Listed at 6-feet-5-inches tall and 235 pounds, Rizzotti is a strong left-handed hitter who resembles Jim Thome, with the manner in which he holds his bat out in front of him while preparing to face opposing pitchers, along with some physical resemblance mixed in too, perhaps.

A sixth round draft choice by the Phillies, out of Manhattan College, in 2007, Rizzotti began his professional career with the Williamsport Crosscutters that same year. In 63 games with the short season NY-Penn League team, Rizzotti posted a .260 average with 19 doubles, 2 homeruns and 27 RBI.

In 2008, Rizzotti joined Class A Lakewood and began to show his power potential by slugging 10 homers with 25 doubles and 49 RBI in 102 games. Rizzotti's batting average stood at .268 that season with the BlueClaws.

The following season, Rizzotti moved up a level to High A Clearwater and produced statistics that were right on the level with what had become expected of him (.263 avg, 26 doubles, 13 HR, 58 RBI in 101 games), but good stats weren't quite impressive stats.

Things changed for Rizzotti, a native of Floral Park, NY, in 2010. He had dedicated himself over the previous off-season to becoming more fit and improving his stamina by working closely with a personal trainer five or six days each week. Rizzotti found himself back in Clearwater to begin the season. In 31 games with the Threshers, Rizzotti batted .358 with a homer and 10 RBI. In May, Rizzotti was named the Phillies minor league player of the month and was promoted to Double A Reading, where he performed even better, posting a .361 average with 16 homeruns and 62 RBI in 77 games. With a focus on hitting for contact, Rizzotti was quickly becoming a buzz-worthy prospect.

Rizzotti was promoted once more and moved up to Triple A Lehigh Valley by mid-August, where he batted just .200 in 17 games while battling a thumb injury.

The focus on contact was clear also, as Rizzotti's 92 strike outs were still higher than his total of 91 in 2009 but he accumulated that total in 70 more at bats than he had in 2009.

His strong 2010 continued in the Arizona Fall League, where "Rizz" batted .333 and had a .500 on-base percentage in 19 games with the Mesa Solar Sox.

New Reading Phillies manager and former big league catcher Mark Parent, who potentially could be headed toward a position as a hitting coach in the Major Leagues in the next handful of seasons, was Rizzotti's hitting coach with the Solar Sox. Parent's opinion on Rizzotti was simple after he got to watch the 25-year-old work hard on a daily basis..."Rizzotti can HIT."

Expect to see Rizzotti begin the 2011 season as the starting first baseman for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. With some particular clubs around MLB, Rizzotti could have an easier route to the big show, but the Phillies have a considerably well known first baseman already in place and no designated hitter slot for a guy like Rizzotti to fill. Those circumstances could make Rizzotti more valuable to an American League organization in need of an inexpensive option for either of those roles. If Rizzotti can replicate his 2010 offensive output, it will be difficult to keep him from making a debut in the Major Leagues before the season is through.

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