The days of having a well-established first baseman are gone. Derrek Lee is a figure of the past, and the Cubs didn’t pick up Carlos Peña’s option for 2012.
So journeyman Bryan LaHair will get a shot at the starting job in 2012. This is the 29 year-old LaHair’s season, and with Anthony Rizzo close to being MLB ready, LaHair must feel a sense of urgency.
Let’s take a look at the good.
The left-handed hitting LaHair is a big guy, 6-foot-5 inches, which is exactly what you look for in a first baseman. He impressed in AAA ball last year, hitting 38 HRs, with just as many doubles and an ISO (isolated power) of .333. LaHair’s OPS was an unbelievable 1.070 and he has shown a decent ability to draw walks.
Epstein said that he values players that have hit at every level, which LaHair has. His career BABIP is .346, which is impressive, and his career batting average is .262. He doesn’t seem to be a risk in the field – he had a UZR/150 (ultimate zone rating) of 7.7 for Seattle in 2008 (small sample size, though). His fielding will no question be a downgrade from Lee and Peña, but he should be reliable.
Now time for the bad.
LaHair strikes out - a lot.
His K percentage has always been over 20 percent, and sometimes in the mid to upper 20s. His problem is that he swings at a lot of balls out of the zone. In 2008, he swung at 32.7 percent of balls out of the zone compared to the major league average of 25.4 percent. LaHair shows no signs of improving his strikeout problems, and it won’t be an issue if he can hit for power.
LaHair’s age also works against him, seeing that if Rizzo is tearing up the minors later in the season, he’ll probably get the callup and the big league job. So LaHair has a small window to prove himself. Epstein doesn’t believe in “AAAA” players, so in 2012 we’ll see if LaHair is a MLB player or a career minor leaguer.