Rice continues breakout in South Bend
Ian Rice is more proof that the Cubs have something figured out when it comes to hitting.
The catching prospect homered twice, doubled and tied a career high with five RBIs on Saturday night, helping Class A South Bend roll to a 17-3 win over Lansing at Four Winds Field.
"In the Cubs' system, we call it being selectively aggressive," Rice said after raising his average to .385 in 17 games. "We're looking for our pitch in a certain location until we get to two strikes and then when you get to that point, you're just trying to battle and put the bat on the ball and avoid the strikeout any way you can."
After the 22-year-old jumped on a 2-0 fastball and doubled off Blue Jays No. 4 prospect Jon Harris in his first at-bat, Rice had a feeling he wouldn't be seeing the heater in his next trip to the plate. He was right and belted a two-run homer to left-center field in the fourth inning.
"I hit a fastball on a 2-0 count for a double in my first at-bat, so I knew that I would see something off-speed in my next at-bat," he said. "It kind of stayed up and I was able to get a good piece of it."
Rice made it two dingers in a row when he came to bat in the fifth inning against reliever Josh DeGraaf. Again, he had a feeling about what was coming and sent a no-doubt shot over the left field wall.
"They brought in a reliever and there were two runners on," he said. "I still had the feeling they were going to throw me something off-speed to try to get me to ground out, but it hung up in the zone."
After hitting .400 in the first six games of his first full professional season, Rice went down with a shoulder injury that kept him out of the lineup for 2 1/2 weeks. Having a hot start get interrupted could've cooled off the University of Houston product, but Rice said he made good use of his time on the disabled list.
"I feel like I didn't really miss a beat, honestly. I was sitting in on bullpens and have someone else throw the ball back for me so I can stay sharp," he said. "I expect big things out of myself because I know the work I put in this offseason, and it's just about going out on the field and executing. I made a lot of mechanical and approach-based adjustments in the offseason and I feel like it's starting to show up now that I'm getting regular at-bats and getting used to seeing live pitching again."
And while the 2015 29th-round pick is breaking out at the plate, he said he makes sure never to lose sight of his goal to be a two-dimensional backstop.
"As a catcher, I feel just as responsible for the pitcher's ERA as he is," Rice said. "I take my work behind the plate just as seriously as I do at the plate. I want to be known as a good defensive catcher just as much as I want to be good with the bat."
Every member of the South Bend lineup collected at least one hit. Andrew Ely and Daniel Spingola both went 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI.
"Everyone was locked in on the process and kept the line moving to help the team win."
Cubs No. 10 prospect Eloy Jimenez singled in the fifth to extend his hitting streak to 15 games, a stretch during which the 19-year-old outielder is batting .491.
"That guy is incredible. He's really fun to watch because everything he does is awesome," Rice said. "If you watch his pregame batting practice, some of the balls go to places that some people couldn't even dream of."
Michael Leboff is a contributor to MiLB.com.