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.
|24||6-5||225||Left||Right||Draft, 2002 – 39th round
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Ceiling: Lyle Overbay
Median: Ben Broussard
Cellar: Scott Hatteberg
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).