|Bryan LaHair of the Chicago Cubs (US Presswire)|
Even after adding Anthony Rizzo this offseason the Chicago Cubs entered 2012 firmly stating Bryan LaHair would be their starting first baseman. While Rizzo was no veteran, he had 169 plate appearances to LaHair’s 219 dating back to 2008 with the Mariners. Surely the Cubs wanted to give Rizzo some more seasoning, but at age 29, LaHair was worth one more shot to see if he could be more than a Quad-A player.
LaHair has amassed 653 games at the Triple-A level and done very well with a slash line of .297/.368/.528, but with all that time spent in the Pacific Coast league, it was doubted if he could do anything like that in the majors. He received only one shot while a member of the Mariners in 2008 and hit .250/.315/.346 in 150 plate appearances.
Still playing in the Pacific Coast League with the Cubs Triple-A affiliate he continued to mash with slugging numbers of .557 and .664 in 2010 and 2011 respectively. The Cubs decided to give him a shot to finish 2011 and, while he played only 20 games, he showed the team he might be worth a longer look.
The Cubs gave him a major league minimum deal to start 2012 and handed him the keys to the first base job to start spring training. That commitment has paid off so far with LaHair hitting as arguably the second best first baseman in the NL right now. Only Joey Votto has been better. Depending on your stat of choice, you could even argue that Lahair has been the best.
How long that will last is a big question. His slugging has been amazing, but his contact has been troubling. He is striking out 30 percent of the time and swinging at pitches out of the zone a high amount (32.8 percent compared to league average of 29). His contact rate stands at 58.5 percent while league average is 67.1 percent. He might be able to smash the ball, but eventually his contact issues are going to drive his average down.
Currently, LaHair has a BABIP of .456, which is best in the league, if you believe he can keep that up. I for one won’t bet on that and assume his line will look more like John Sickels of minorleagueball.com projected this offseason.
I can’t see him hitting for a high batting average in the majors, but I bet he can hit .250/.330/.450 and knock 20 homers if you gave him enough at-bats.
Obviously the power numbers look primed to pass what John gave him, but the average and OBP are still distinct possibilities with LaHair striking out nearly as much as Pedro Alvarez right now.
In the long term the Cubs will be counting on Rizzo to take over the position. To his credit Rizzo has been tearing up the Pacific Coast League as well with a slash line of .338/.407/.638. The problem is with the team si x games out and not much prospect of playoffs, there is really no reason to rush Rizzo this season. It’s also fairly possible LaHair plays himself into trade bait and could be moved before the year is out. The Cubs need pieces to build and at 29 years old LaHair might make a better trade piece than first baseman for the Cubs.