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Bryan LaHair: Next Great Hype or Next [Not So] Great Hoffpauir

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Will Bryan LaHair take the first base job and run with it? Or will he live up to the Micah Hoffpauir comps?

Quick trivia question: Who was the 2011 Pacific Coast League MVP? Bryan LaHair. For the first time since 2003, the Cubs will not start an established veteran at the first base position on opening day. With Carlos Pena gone, that job falls to LaHair. Now the question becomes: what do we have with him?

How Did We Get Here? – LaHair was drafted in the 39th round of the 2002 draft by the Seattle Mariners out of junior college. He played in the Mariners system for seven years and only saw a few at bats with the Major League club in 2008. Following the 2009 season he was granted minor league free agency and signed a minor league contract with the Cubs. He spent the season in AAA, his 5th straight year at that level, and had his best offensive season. LaHair won the Pacific Coast League Most Valuable Player Award and Joe Bauman Home Run Award in 2011. He was named the designated hitter on Baseball America’s 2011 Minor League All Star team. That success has the Cubs counting on him to bridge the gap between Pena and highly regarded prospect, Anthony Rizzo, who is expected to spend at least the first half of the season in AAA.

What Do We Have?– When you talk to most people, the immediate comp for LaHair is Micah Hoffpauir. They are similar in story, but not quite identical. Hoffpauir was never given the every day job to show if he could or could not handle it. Hoffpauir never had the power in one season that LaHair showed last year when he hit 40 bombs combined between AAA and ML. LaHair is a slightly better fielder than Hoffpauir with a little more range. Other than that, you can see how people come to the conclusion that Hoffpauir is the best comp for him. Side note, for all the Hoffpauirites, here are Micah’s numbers from his time in Japan last year:

Year Tm PA R 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
2011 Nippon Ham 373 29 14 0 12 36 .222 .298 .374 .671
 

The question now becomes what can we expect from LaHair when given every day at bats. Most of the projections on Major League players are fairly boring and routine. Projection service A projects numbers very similar to the career norm of Player A as does proejection service B,C, & D. When it gets fun is with players like LaHair. Guys that have not shown the Major League history to use in the calculations. For that, I went to Fan Graphs to see what the projections looked like. Six services are listed. Here are the averages as well as the high and low value for his numbers.

Home Runs – 14 (High – 24 / Low – 6)
RBI – 49 (High – 68 / Low – 24)

It’s a wide range for what people think we can expect. Personally, I want to give the guy the benefit of the doubt. He hit well when he was up in September and didn’t stop hitting all throughout the off-season in winter ball. There is no doubt he can hit the ball out of the ballpark. The biggest test for him will be if he can make adjustments to stay consistent once the book on him gets bigger. That tends to be the reason guys fail. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you lack the key ability of being able to make adjustments to your game, you will not succeed at the Major League Level. That’s the key for LaHair. I fully expect him to start well. If he does, it gives the Cubs a lot of options.

What Should We Do With Him? – For right now, he’s the first baseman. In a perfect world, I’d like to see the season play out this way. Rizzo begins the season in Iowa and shows he has mastered that level. LaHair is hitting the ball well at first base and is making it hard to move him from the position for Rizzo. The Cubs strike a deal to move Alfonso Soriano and shift Bryan LaHair to LF to make room for Rizzo. Jed and Theo explore trade options before the deadline to maximize return on LaHair before he has a chance to reveal that he’s not able to make adjustments.

Ultimately, I don’t have a lot of hope that he’ll have long term success in this league. I want to believe, but I’m fairly certain it will be a short burst that will be just enough to tease, but not enough to really satisfy.

  • Norm Bothwell

    The average 1B put up a 270/345/450 line with 24 homers last year. I think LaHair can come close, but fall short on the avg/obp numbers. Might be able to top the slg though.

    • Buddy

      I hope you’re right Norm, but I’m not holding my breath. 

  • Norm Bothwell

    The average 1B put up a 270/345/450 line with 24 homers last year. I think LaHair can come close, but fall short on the avg/obp numbers. Might be able to top the slg though.

    • Buddy

      I hope you’re right Norm, but I’m not holding my breath. 

  • Brad Bradley

    Agreed on your perfect world scenario. Get something for Sori, and the actually sell high for once…. Then sign Grienke in the off season.

  • mrbaseball2usa

    Agreed on your perfect world scenario. Get something for Sori, and the actually sell high for once…. Then sign Grienke in the off season.

  • Doug S.

    Joe teases me with this Soriano elsewhere stuff.

  • Doug S.

    Joe teases me with this Soriano elsewhere stuff.

  • Doc Raker

    Joe- Specifically why don’t you think LaHair will stick? I liked your scenario up until you said ‘maximize return on LaHair’. My perfect scenario is LaHair & Rizzo stick, one of them gets moved to LF and Thed maximize their retrun on Soriano with a trade.

    • Crazier things have happened.  Today in fact…Pettitte just resigned with the Yanks.  

      • Buddy

        I guess Ron Guidry wasn’t available. 

    • Joe Aiello

      The main reason I don’t believe in LaHair is that he took 5 seasons of Triple A to figure it out. That tells me he’s either A) Not a quick learner or B) Very bad at making adjustments.

      When you spend that many seasons in AAA, which is typically not even the most competative in the minors (that’s usually AA), it’s not a good sign.

      I don’t believe in LaHair because the evidence against outweighs the evidence for.

      That said, I hope I’m wrong.

      • Doc Raker

        It is possible LaHair has been ready for the bigs but was blocked by gauranteed contracts and a regime(s) that refused to rebuild with youth. I like his swing and hope he will stick, I am a little more optomistic about LaHair than you. Adjustments will surely need to be made but I see no evidence that he can not make adjustments, his plate discipline was very impressive. You know the difference between a .200 hitter and a .300 hitter? The .300 hitter is more selective within his own hitting zone, LaHair strikes me as one who knows his hitting zone pretty well.

  • Doc Raker

    Joe- Specifically why don’t you think LaHair will stick? I liked your scenario up until you said ‘maximize return on LaHair’. My perfect scenario is LaHair & Rizzo stick, one of them gets moved to LF and Thed maximize their retrun on Soriano with a trade.

    • Crazier things have happened.  Today in fact…Pettitte just resigned with the Yanks.  

      • Buddy

        I guess Ron Guidry wasn’t available. 

    • Joe Aiello

      The main reason I don’t believe in LaHair is that he took 5 seasons of Triple A to figure it out. That tells me he’s either A) Not a quick learner or B) Very bad at making adjustments.

      When you spend that many seasons in AAA, which is typically not even the most competative in the minors (that’s usually AA), it’s not a good sign.

      I don’t believe in LaHair because the evidence against outweighs the evidence for.

      That said, I hope I’m wrong.

      • Doc Raker

        It is possible LaHair has been ready for the bigs but was blocked by gauranteed contracts and a regime(s) that refused to rebuild with youth. I like his swing and hope he will stick, I am a little more optomistic about LaHair than you. Adjustments will surely need to be made but I see no evidence that he can not make adjustments, his plate discipline was very impressive. You know the difference between a .200 hitter and a .300 hitter? The .300 hitter is more selective within his own hitting zone, LaHair strikes me as one who knows his hitting zone pretty well.

  • BLPCB

    I too would like to see Soriano gone. And it would be nice to sell high on a player. What if Rizzo is MLB ready out of camp? Do you still keep him on the farm to get an extra year out of him?

    • Doc Raker

      Absolutley keep Rizzo in the farm until it extends his arbitration eligible another year. We need to see who can play, give LaHair a chance- why rush Rizzo in 2012- it is a rebuilding year- don’t waist MLB service time on 2012.

  • AC0000000

    I too would like to see Soriano gone. And it would be nice to sell high on a player. What if Rizzo is MLB ready out of camp? Do you still keep him on the farm to get an extra year out of him?

    • Doc Raker

      Absolutley keep Rizzo in the farm until it extends his arbitration eligible another year. We need to see who can play, give LaHair a chance- why rush Rizzo in 2012- it is a rebuilding year- don’t waist MLB service time on 2012.

  • cap’n obvious

    I’ll take Rizzo.  He has raked in all 3 big league spring training’s he’s been to.  26 jacks and 101 RBI in only 356 at-bats last season at AAA.   His first season at AAA.  Sure Lahair hit 38 last year at Iowa.  After 6 years at AAA he figured it out.  Rizzo is 7 years younger, and better defensively, which both equal a lot more upside.  Lahair looks like a lefthanded Julio Zuleta.  Sure, the swing is pretty, but there must be holes there for him to still be scrapping for a big league roster spot.

    • Doc Raker

      It seems like Rizzo has more upside but I am rooting for LaHair also. Let’s give him a chance.

      • cap’n obvious

        I rooted for Crash Davis to break the minor league homerun record in Bull Durham, too.  Didn’t make him an everyday big leaguer.

      • Doc Raker

        What do you know Capn- you can’t even throw strikes.

  • cap’n obvious

    I’ll take Rizzo.  He has raked in all 3 big league spring training’s he’s been to.  26 jacks and 101 RBI in only 356 at-bats last season at AAA.   His first season at AAA.  Sure Lahair hit 38 last year at Iowa.  After 6 years at AAA he figured it out.  Rizzo is 7 years younger, and better defensively, which both equal a lot more upside.  Lahair looks like a lefthanded Julio Zuleta.  Sure, the swing is pretty, but there must be holes there for him to still be scrapping for a big league roster spot.

    • Doc Raker

      It seems like Rizzo has more upside but I am rooting for LaHair also. Let’s give him a chance.

      • cap’n obvious

        I rooted for Crash Davis to break the minor league homerun record in Bull Durham, too.  Didn’t make him an everyday big leaguer.

      • Doc Raker

        What do you know Capn- you can’t even throw strikes.

  • Chetwest

    Remember when Julio was blessing the bats in 2003 …or was that 2007? Anyhow, thats all I remember from Zuleta…..I still think it worked.  

    • Micah Hoffpauer

      ‘Blessing my bats- darn it had I known………….’

  • Chetwest

    Remember when Julio was blessing the bats in 2003 …or was that 2007? Anyhow, thats all I remember from Zuleta…..I still think it worked.  

    • Micah Hoffpauer

      ‘Blessing my bats- darn it had I known………….’

  • Matt Mitchener

    I would use ops for the projections since many of those projections don’t see him playing a full season. THe highest i saw was .809 and lowest was .769. Looks better than Soriano.

    Michael Morse and Ryan Roberts had breakout years last year at 29 and 30 years and they had more opportunities.  I think that would be the best outcome.

  • Matt Mitchener

    I would use ops for the projections since many of those projections don’t see him playing a full season. THe highest i saw was .809 and lowest was .769. Looks better than Soriano.

    Michael Morse and Ryan Roberts had breakout years last year at 29 and 30 years and they had more opportunities.  I think that would be the best outcome.

  • BLPCB

    Anyone see Carlos Silva got cut by the BoSox?
    LMAO!

  • AC0000000

    Anyone see Carlos Silva got cut by the BoSox?
    LMAO!