Things are finally looking up for Chicago Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair.
After spending 5 1/2 years at AAA, LaHair is finally getting his shot. Call it being in the right place at the right time, but the Cubs, deep into a rebuilding process, have the luxury of giving LaHair a chance to prove himself at the major league level. Something that hasn't happened since he played 45 games for Seattle back in 2008.
The Cubs haven't always been in a position to give players a shot like this. Back in 2008, the Cubs gave little known infielder Casey McGehee just 9 games at the major league level to "prove himself", he failed and the Cubs put him on waivers after the season. Milwaukee claimed him and he rewarded the Brewers with two solid years at third, with an OPS over .800, before falling a bit flat last year.
What can we expect from Bryan LaHair? Short answer, hell if I know, but I'm willing to try to figure it out.
In 9 minor league seasons, LaHair has a career slash line of .295/.362/.503, including .297/.368/.528 in 6 years at AAA. Granted, all of those years at AAA have been in the hitter friendly PCL.
In 65 major league games, LaHair has hit .265/.335/.395, including a .288/.377/.508 line in just 59 at bats last year. He has done ok, but its not a large enough sample size to draw any conclusions.
He put up some monstrous numbers last year at Iowa, with a .331/.405/.664 line, including 38 homers in just 456 at bats. Using one of the numerous Major League Equivalency calculators onine, that projects to a .267/.331/.505 line with 28 homers, pretty good production for a first baseman.
However, 2011 was LaHair's career year in AAA, which skews the number some. Let's take a look at his MLE, based on his average AAA season, even taking into account the ballpark affects of playing in Tacoma, which is not as hitter friendly as Iowa.
In the equivalent of 3 years at Tacoma, LaHair averaged a .284/.352/.480 line with 20 homers, which produces a MLE of .251/.307/.406 with 16 homers. In 2 years at Iowa, LaHair averaged a .320/.396/.613 line with 32 homers, which produces a .259/.323/.470 MLE. Averaging the MLE's together gives one a .254/.311/.436 line with 20 homers, which is in line with what Minor League Ball projects for him (.250/.330/.450 with 20 homers), assuming he gets enough at bats.
Overall, not bad, but not exactly great numbers. This is pretty much what Tyler Colvin produced for the Cubs in 2010, at age 24, which may be enough to keep Anthony Rizzo in the minors until September.
If your looking for hope for bigger and better things, Baseball Prospectus, using their PECOTA system, lists his comparables as Leon Durham, Richie Sexson and David Ortiz. I certainly don't see LaHair turning into the next David Ortiz, but I think most Cubs fans would be happy with Durham's career line of .277/.356/.477 (minus the error in the 1984 NLCS).
Based on the above, I'm going to project that LaHair gets around 450 at bats this year, hits roughly .260/.325/.475 with 20+ homeruns (and 30+ doubles). The Cubs will then sell high on him next winter and use him to acquire a pitcher.