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No. 8 – Bryan LaHair, 1B

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on March 7, 2007

Since when did the Seattle Mariners have a left-handed hitting first baseman that was nearly ready for a look in the big leagues?

Since last summer when Bryan LaHair showed impressive power in his first taste of Triple-A baseball.

Where did he come from? He was the 1180th player taken in the 2002 draft.

Yeah, one thousand, one hundred and eightieth overall.

Not a bad find by the Mariners in the 39th round of an otherwise shallow draft, eh?

Bryan LaHair jumps Wladimir Balentien as prospect No. 8.

Strengths: The lefty-hitting LaHair had a huge 2005 with Class A Inland Empire, leading the minors in RBI until he left the 66ers to play for Team USA, but it was his short-but-sweet streak last summer with Triple-A Tacoma that has opened some eyes.

LaHair has a solid stroke, a pretty strong eye at the plate and the late bloomer seems to be improving almost as if he was just 19 or 20. He has power to all fields, but he’s at his best when he’s making pitchers pay for mistakes on the inner half.

Weaknesses: LaHair has problems making contact, though not to the extent of Balentien. Striking out 101 times in 438 PAs is not where he needs to be break into the big leagues with a chance to stick.

He doesn’t draw his share of walks, either, but he did post career best rates, which could bode well for him in 2007. He has become more selective and his improved swing has become dramatically more consistent the past two seasons.

He struggles something awful against lefties (.159avg, .182slg in AA — .255avg, .383slg in AAA) and must improve to be of any regular use in the big leagues. Either that or he has to dominate right-handed pitchers, Barry Bonds style.

AGE HEIGHT WEIGHT BATS THROWS ACQUIRED
24 6-5 225 Left Right Draft, 2002 – 39th round
YEAR TEAM LEVEL G 2B 3B HR BB SO AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS*
2006 San Antonio AA 60 12 0 6 24 52 .293 .371 .428 .798 .837
2006 Tacoma AAA 54 10 0 10 23 49 .327 .393 .525 .918 .946

Tools –

Hitting for Average (on-base skills): LaHair’s career .297/.356 line shows he has a pretty good idea how to get on base… he just needs to do more of it and stay consistent in his efforts. His emergence in Tacoma has some very excited to see what lies ahead for the 24-year-old, but he’ll need to control the strike zone a little bit better, and continue to develop better pitch recognition.
Grade: 45/55

Hitting for Power: The truth is, power is typically the last tool to reach it’s full potential, and LaHair is the M’s poster boy for that fact. After slugging .505 in the Cal League, LaHair still had a lot to prove, due to the confines and weather conditions that are so conducive to the bats in that circuit.

He hit for average in San Antonio but was seemingly bothered by the home park, notorious for shredding a hitter’s power stroke and confidence. In Triple-A to finish his season, his work with Terry Pollreisz started to pay off, finishing with 10 homers, 10 doubles and a .525 slugging for the Rainiers.

“He clearly made a few adjustments,” said an AL scout who had just finished watching LaHair tear a hole in the Portland Beavers pitching staff. “They may have been made before he came up but he’s really getting the (bat) head out there and turning on some fastballs.”

LaHair is on the map and if he can duplicate his development from last summer, he’ll be in the big leagues in no time.
Grade: 55/60+

Glove: The right-handed throwing LaHair handles his position well and has above average foot-speed for a player 6-5 and 225 pounds. He’s adept in turning the 3-6-3 double play and is solid at making the toss to the pitcher on grounders to the right side.
Grade: 55/60

Arm: LaHair can make all the routine throws, including the tough one across the diamond and the relay to the plate. His arm strength is a tick above average.
Grade: 55/55

Future: LaHair might be in a make-or-break type season at age 24. With Richie Sexson under contract for two more seasons, the club could be forced to either trade the veteran or DH him to make room for a younger, cheaper player if LaHair explodes again this season.

And while he’s an athletic first baseman, he probably doesn’t have the foot speed to play the outfield on a regular basis, limiting his big-league roles to first or DH. He’s not versatile enough defensively to be a useful bench player, so he’ll need to produce a little versus LHP.

If he struggles, his chance to start in the majors, at least in Seattle, would likely be gone, though if Sexson were dealt, LaHair would get a second life. He’ll start 2007 as Tacoma’s everyday first baseman.

MLB ETA: 2007 (September-ish)

MLB CLONE:

Ceiling: Lyle Overbay

Median: Ben Broussard

Cellar: Scott Hatteberg

OFP: 61.5

PI Projection 2007: .282/.348/.455, 55 BB, 118 K

Note: Why LaHair over Balentien at the last second? I talked about the two players with a Mariners minor league coach over the weekend and he made a good point on the risk-reward factor that made me switch the two.

Balentien has a higher ceiling, but he’s less likely to get to be Bill Hall, circa 2006, than LaHair is Lyle Overbay. Hence the swap.

But, LaHair simply does not have the potential pay-off of any of the top 7, despite having less risk than three of the pitchers.

It’s like this. Would you give a dollar for a chance at 5? Well, Bryan LaHair is the dollar, and Tony Butler and Chris Tillman are five spots.

I’d give away a buck to get five, even if the risk is somewhat high, but I wouldn’t do the same for two bucks (Balentien).

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37 Responses to “No. 8 – Bryan LaHair, 1B”

  1. Ozzie said

    i’ve always liked him and he seems to improve every year. He has done everything the M’s wanted him to do, I believe that if he doesn’t take a step back then you promote near the deadline and trade Sexson. But it also depends on where the M’s are in the standings. If Guillen and Vidro stay healthy then you don’t necessarily need Sexson’s power and could free up cash and give a young player time to develop without hurting the M’s in the standings.

  2. Goose said

    It would be awesome to see LaHair force the M’s to trade Sexson(or “lose” Vidro in Oakland some where).

  3. Willmore said

    I’m not hot on LaHair, I think that he is certainly an above average offensive player, but below average if his future is at 1B or DH. He simply doesn’t have the offensive output of a league-average player at those positions. His last year was, in my opinion, was more indicative of a somewhat fortuitous spell in Tacoma than of an actual improvement in his skill-set. The fact that he is a Top-10 prospect (and he is) shows the complete drop-off between the top-5 prospects in the system and the rest, sad really. Top-10 prospect in the mariners system used to stand for something, now it stands for a replacement player with scarcely a chance at more than a bench job. I wouldn’t mind him as a cheap Broussard (role, not talent) replacement though, we need a lefty bench guy who can sub for Sexson defensively late in games, as well as give him a rest sometimes. Broussard might still fetch a nice return in a package deal at the deadline. Perhaps if Guillen has worn out his welcome by then, we can package them and get a decent return from a contender.

  4. Ozzie said

    LaHair reminds me of a certain late bloomer that played for the M’s in the late 1990s. Who developed power later in his minor league carreer. His minor league stats were .295/.358/.473. LaHair’s numbers .293/.371/.428. Then he went to Kansas City and develop into a solid player who can get around on an inside pitch and got consistent playing time. This player is Raul Ibanez. I believe that LaHair is a late bloomer who is finally growing into his body and learning how to hit.

  5. Ozzie said

    Sorry LaHair numbers: .297/.356/.463

  6. Slack said

    Lahair turning into a Raul Ibanez? Sounds good to me!

  7. marc w. said

    I see some similarities, Ozzie, but there are important differences as well. Ibanez consistently hit for extra-base power in the minors (he had a higher percentage of his hits go for extra bases than LaHair), showing that he had some untapped power potential. But LaHair is already hitting a decent number of homers, it’s just that he’s more of a single or homer guy. With guys like Ibanez, who hit a lot of doubles but maybe not quite so many HRs, the HR power may just be slow to develop. I worry that LaHair is more of a mistake hitter – that his power isn’t going to develop more than where it is now, and he’ll still roll over good, moving pitches (or just about anything thrown by a lefty); he may refine his approach to be an even better mistake hitter, but basically what you see is what you get. As JAC mentions, that’s not a bad thing – I think he could be a contributor in the majors today, albeit as a platoon guy. I agree that this year will go a long way towards showing whether he’s got a future as a regular or a bench guy.

    Back to Ibanez for a bit..Raul had a much better eye ratio; he took a lot of walks and he rarely struck out. Looks like Ibanez struck out in about 14% of his PAs compared to LaHair’s nearly 22%. That’s a fairly significant difference.
    Finally, Ibanez was coming up as a catcher, which made him much more valuable. Even now, with Ibanez able to play LF, his overall production is a lot more valuable than an equivalent line from a 1B/DH. So LaHair’s got some work to do, but I think we’re all rooting for him. Getting league average production from 1B from a pre-arby player would really transform this line-up – the M’s could really splurge on some sure-thing FAs if their 2b/SS/1b and #1 pitcher were all playing for peanuts.

  8. Ozzie said

    Raul taking a lot of walks in the minors? His highest walk total was 44 in 111 games. LaHair walked 51 and 47 times the last two years. Granted LaHair does strike out more than Raul. LaHair extra base hit rate was high in Inland Empire in 2005. It went down some last year, but he moved up two classes last year (A in 2005 to AAA in 2006). This year you will see his extra base hits will go back up because of his adjustments to pitching, you saw it at the tail end of last year. (50 extra base hits in 2005/ 38 in 2006 for LaHair compared to 43 and 45 extra base hits in Raul’s best minor league seasons). You are right that his value might be limited because he can really on play 1b and DH, but if your able to get a “cheap” productive player to play first that is worth a lot compared to a “cheap” catcher or LF.

  9. Ozzie said

    typo: 52 walks for Raul’s highest walk total in minors.

  10. marc w. said

    No, Ibanez was never a huge walk total guy; I meant more that he had a great eye ratio – with roughly equivalent walks and Ks. But even so, he often walked in 10-11% of his PAs compared to 9% or so for LaHair. This is a fairly slight difference, but still…if LaHair isn’t going to be a big time OBP guy, and if he can’t play OF, then his power’s going to have to really show up this year. We’ll see – maybe it will, and he’ll have a Henry Rodriguez type career (though Henry never struck out that often…hmmm).

  11. StandinPat said

    Even if his power doesnt take another spike, a guy who plays a good defensive first base while possibly giving you a solid average and obp with maybe 25 hr’s is a pretty nice thing to have at the league min. If the M’s were smart, seriously doubting it, LaHair at 1B for couple of years while he’s cheap and rolling that savings into a true MOTO bat in the outfield or at DH makes alot of sense. Its like the difference between having Sexson and Gullen, or LaHair and a Alfonso Soriano/Carlos Lee type player.

  12. jp17 said

    I like that idea #11, but I’m pretty glad we weren’t saddled with Soriano and especially Lee. Here, half of Soriano’s contract would be a sunk cost.

    I really hope LaHair breaks out this year and forces us to deal Sexson. LaHair would still likely need a platoon partner, but Morse would work if nothing else. The prospects and extra money could be useful.

  13. JI said

    The M’s will probably only deal Sexson if he starts to tank, regardless of how well LaHair plays.

  14. 3rd Watch said

    LaHair had a good day statistically at the plate today. Anybody see what kind of cuts he got? There is something that you have to like about a sweet swing from the left hand side.

  15. jp17 said

    JI, you’d think they would learn the old addage “better a year early, than a year late” by now. Olerud, Boone, and Edgar likely taught them nothing.

  16. JI said

    Or “sell high.”

    I just think that they don’t want the negative PR of dealing a home-town player who is performing for “non-baseball” reasons. It could be seen as “calculating” and “cold-hearted,” and “not family friendly.”

    I could be wrong.

  17. If Seattle would have been offered Noah Lowry for Richie Sexson straight up, they would have done it this past winter.

    But all they could get from SF was Sanchez, which I would have done myself. But they want the most known names they can get so they can feel like they are keeping the fans happy.

  18. JI said

    That would have been a good baseball trade. most fans would agree that we had a surplus at first, and that we needed a starting pitcher. But I think it’s unlikely that they’d trade him for beans just to dump him contract, I think that it might rub more casual fans the wrong way.

    My $0.02, that’s all.

  19. Katal said

    Ugh.
    I know I’m saying nothing new here, but man, Jason, is your last comment bugging me.
    Not at all due to what you said.
    But the Mariners brass should not be operating with a “Will this move immediately make the fans happy?” paradigm.
    That’s disappointing.

  20. Katal said

    I should rephrase.
    “Not at all due to what you said”
    Of course it’s due to what you wrote.
    What I meant was, it wasn’t you that was bothering me.
    But the M’s.

  21. marinerseric said

    Keep the fans happy, thats not really an excuse. I would not have traded this offseason unless we got a good return.

  22. cujo said

    Cmon jason Lowry for Sexson Bavasi would have figured a way to screw that up too…lol.I dont think the fans will be happy with the mariners until the fire mike and bill.Alot of fans want to hire the ex georgetown towel boy antonetti but that would send are beloved mariners even further back.They better hire a guy who is willing to blow this mess up and lose for a year are two and acquire some prospects for all these over payed mistakes billy boy has made.

  23. Haha, so true.

    He would have insisted that Ichiro be in that deal.

  24. marc w. said

    Whoa! JAC, they were offered Jonathan Sanchez and said, “eh, nah, we’d never be able to sell that?”

    1: I agree with Katal that this philosophy is awful if you’re trying to build a winning club; yes, it’s still a business and you don’t want to lose the bulk of the casual fans, but man – that’s pretty clearly fighting with one hand tied behind your back. It also helps explain Bavasi’s bizarre fixation on aging, third-tier free agents (Vidro, Aurilia, etc.).

    2: Bavasi (and his successor) needs to keep Brian Sabean on speed dial. If there’s one guy who’s even more accomodating to veterans, it’s clearly Sabean. If a year or two of Sexson is worth Jonathan Sanchez… then we need to ask about Lincecum at the deadline. Sure, no GM in the world is likely to deal a prospect like that. But if anyone would, it’s this guy.

  25. If Seattle would have been offered Noah Lowry for Richie Sexson straight up, they would have done it this past winter.

    But all they could get from SF was Sanchez, which I would have done myself. But they want the most known names they can get so they can feel like they are keeping the fans happy.

    Hmm. Interesting. Now, here I thought all along that Bavasi never considers fan reaction in any decision. At least that’s what he clearly said at FanFest…

  26. Lance said

    Jason, you mentioned LaHair’s struggles against lefties, citing his .255/.383 numbers in AAA. However, if he were to duplicate those numbers in the big leagues against lefties wouldn’t that be pretty darn good, especially in seeing that he’d likely only face lefties about 20% of the time, anyway?

  27. jp17 said

    The problem is LaHair duplicating those numbers against MLB quality LHP.

  28. Bavasi doesn’t Paul, but Howie does.

    The .383. Lance, was his SLUGGING.

  29. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure SF ever made an official offer, but I do know the Mariners weren’t keen to Sanchez in return.

    I don’t know if that was Bavasi saying that because he believes in that, or if that came from above him.

  30. C. Cheetah said

    Did Everett have a .383 slugging?

  31. jp17 said

    Everett slugged .360 overall, .374 vs RHP, .308 vs LHP

  32. Lance said

    I understood that .383 was the slugging %. You indicated that in your story.

  33. Bretticus said

    Hey Jason, what do you know about our 6th round pick in 2004, Jermaine Brock? He’s staying in my hotel here in Peoria, and he’s a nice kid…been hurt the last few years…how does he project?

  34. Lance said

    Just weighing in on this, a bit, but it seems, IIRC, that Brock had an attitude problem. The club was high on him, but he either walked away from them, or they finally came to the conclusion he was more trouble than he was worth. If he’s a “nice kid” now maybe he’s had an attitude adjustment.

  35. YEah, Lance is right. Brock failed to report last year and word is that he’s very lazy, hates authority and while he does seem like a nice kid, he isn’t going to hack it in pro ball it seems.

  36. Lance said

    To quote a Woody Allen movie, he took the money and ran.

  37. lol, good point, Lance. Any money is big money to a 17-year-old kid from Michigan.

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