Bryan LaHair: What to Expect from the Cubs’ Opening Day First Baseman
The Cubs are giving Bryan LaHair, 29 and a career minor leaguer, his shot as a major league regular in 2012. The first base job is LaHair’s to lose going in to the season. What are reasonable expectations for this minor league journeyman with only 65 major league games under his belt?
In LaHair’s previous 219 major league plate appearances, he posted a .262 batting average, a .335 on-base and a .395 slugging with 22 walks and 58 strikeouts. LaHair came to the plate 150 times at age 25 with the Seattle Mariners in 2008. The other 69 plate appearances were with the Cubs last season.
LaHair’s minor league performance indicates that there’s a good shot he can legitimately hold down a major league first base job. In 4,051 plate appearances he’s hit .295/.362/.503 while walking 376 times and striking out 869 times in 970 games.
The strikeouts indicate he’s not destined for greatness in the majors at an advanced age, for someone getting his first shot. His hit tool, at least according to the metrics, doesn’t seem to be anything special. However, his walk rate in the minors is far from hopeless and he displayed some power. He’s had his contact problems but he walks at a respectable rate and, when he does hit the ball, he’s shown an ability to hit it with some authority. These are signs that he probably can draw enough walks and get enough hits and extra-base hits to hold down first base offensively at something close to average production.
LaHair’s athleticism is at least good enough to allow him to play 188 games in the outfield throughout his minor league career. That’s not necessarily an indication that he’ll be anything more than a serviceable to average first baseman in the majors but at least it’s a good sign. If nothing else, his minor league managers think he has enough range to cover the outfield, which is a sign he’ll do fine at first base.
Looking at the total package, we should probably expect something around what Freddie Freeman or Eric Hosmer did last season, 1-2 Wins Above Replacement. If we are optimistic, a 2011 Gaby Sanchez type season is a possibility, something around 3 WAR.