Tuesday, March 4, 2008

LaHair on the Cusp

posted by Jon

Going into this season, the Seattle Mariners have several position players preparing to make the jump to the Major Leagues in the next couple of seasons. First baseman Bryan LaHair certainly falls into this category

Many Mariner fans have been calling for LaHair's promotion since he tore it up in his first taste of AAA play, smacking 10 homers to go along with his 44 RBIs and .327 batting average in the 202 at bats he got after his promotion from AA in 2006. These calls only increased when incumbent first baseman Richie Sexson put up career worsts while LaHair was busy putting together a respectable year, batting .275 with 12 home runs and 81 RBIs and reaping the benefits of hitting in the same lineup as studs Adam Jones, Wlad Balentien and Jeff Clement.

Like Sexson, LaHair is an imposing figure, standing at about 6'5" tall. Any player with that kind of size has the potential of putting up huge power numbers, but LaHair still has some work to do before his lefty swing will be taking advantage of Safeco Field's easily conquerable right field wall.

Watching LaHair play this Spring and in years past, I've noticed that his body isn't yet built like other power hitters. One thing he does have are these big powerful legs, which is a great start for any aspiring slugger. Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols are two guys that have found great success in powering their swings with ridiculously strong legs. The thing LaHair seemingly lacks compared to these two is the complimenting upper body strength. Obviously having strong arms, shoulders, chest and back will result in hitting the ball consistently harder and farther, but it also helps the hitter drive the pitch better when he is fooled and is unable to produce the power with his legs. I'm not saying he has a weak upper body by any stretch, and I'm not about to challenge the guy to an arm wresting match, but he has the type of body that he can add a lot more bulk (especially around his shoulders, in my opinion), and I'm sure he will as he ages. He's still just 25 years old. (photo credit: Paul Marsh)

Leaving the weight room and getting back to the field, LaHair needs to cut down on his strikeouts a little more. Obviously this isn't an unusual problem, as most prospects with any power potential struggle in this area. Strikeouts alone won't keep a player from the big leagues, as we know, but making better contact will expedite his ascent. While his strikeout rates increased fairly dramatically while climbing up the A-ball ladder, he has been taking strides to reverse the trend in the last couple of seasons. In 2005 he struck out once every 4.07 at bats while playing at Inland Empire (A+), a career worst. The next season he brought the number up to 4.16 splitting time between AA San Antonio and AAA Tacoma. In 2007 he played the entire season in AAA and post a mark of 4.38. Just as a comparison, Jose Vidro struck out once every 9.61 at bats last year, while Richie Sexson had a rate of 4.34. LaHair still has some improving to do, but he's heading in the right direction.

Walks are another stat that many prospects have trouble accruing. I'd love to see LaHair draw at least another 15-25 walks per year, but he is showing great improvement in this area. In his first pro season he walked once for every 19.27 plate appearances. That's about once every five games, if you're scoring at home. He has quickly improved his knowledge of the strikezone, bringing that number down to 10.26 in 2006 and 12.37 in 2007. Seattle's leader in walks drawn last year was, once again for comparison, Jose Vidro. He walked once per every 9.92 plate appearances, showing that LaHair is quickly learning that drawing a walk is the easiest way to get on base. If he can continue to improve in this area he will be a great asset for a franchise that typically struggles in this category.

LaHair could find himself as Seattle's starting first baseman next season, but has to have prove himself this season in AAA Tacoma. Otherwise, Seattle could be looking into bringing in someone else to play the position (a topic I'll spend some time on before the season starts). Should he spend the entire season in Tacoma again, I'd like to see him hit in the .275-.285 range with 15+ homers, 85+ RBI, 58+ walks and fewer than 125 strikeouts. It's time for him to make the final adjustments, as his prime years are fast approaching.

What do you all think of Bryan LaHair? A lot of fans seem very high on him, and I'm slowly coming around to that way of thinking.


Rob T. said...

career backup

Anonymous said...

Rob: I can see why you would think that, and I agree with you IF he doesn't take some major strides this season. Late bloomers do exist.

Ben Broussard isn't a star in this league, but he is a solid MLB starter. He didn't find his way to the big leagues full time until he was 26. LaHair's minor league numbers are fairly comprable to Broussard's too, except for the one thing I required from LaHair in order for him to make it to the majors. Broussard walked more and struck out less.

I'm not saying he'll be a star, but he can be a useful starter hitting 6th or so in the lineup.

If we end up with no first baseman next year, which is completely possible if we strike out in a thin free agent market and do not bring back Ibanez to play the position (or bring him back to play LF or DH), then he could be a formidable option for the time being.

Cam and Kristy said...

Thanks for the info on LaHair. I really didn't know much about him until I read your post. Sounds to me like he could develop into a fine, solid player for years to come. By the way, I enjoy your blog.

DrivinDave said...

Good info on Lahair,I hope you continue the in depth look at our minor league prospects , that is until reg season ,but then to keep us posted on there progress in the minors.
keep it up!

Cam and Kristy said...

I am a die hard Mariners fan. That being said, I don't claim to know a whole lot about the Mariners. But if you are interested in friendly discussion about the team, check out my Mariner thoughts at this address:

Rob T. said...

Its funny that you compared him to Broussard because that's exactly who Churchill compared him too last March. Lahair was a top 10 prospect last year for the M's but has fallen drastically and is not even in the top 15 now because of a down year in AAA compiled with a terrible winter league (He was in the Hawaiin league which is considered the league with the worst talent). Is it possible he can regain his form, of course it is.

With Clement and Wlad pretty much locks to be in the lineup in 09 and with M's in a constant win now mode I don't see them letting Lahair being in the lineup as a 3rd rookie unless he really impresses this year. With the way this FO thinks, Lahair will be their last option when choosing a 1B for next year.

Anonymous said...

That is funny, especially since I wasn't reading Churchill back then. Maybe that gives me some cred (:

Just keep in mind that I didn't ever say he'd be an impact bat or anything like that, just that he "could find himself as Seattle's starting first baseman next season" and that he is "preparing to make the jump to the Major Leagues in the next couple of seasons." There is no denying that LaHair, after this season, will be done in the minor leagues.

jp17 said...

If the M's failed to produce a better option a LaHair/Morse platoon at 1B wouldn't be a bad option.

There is the thance that both Ibanez and Vidro are back next year and they would be candidates to take over the position as well.

LaHair just needs to show consistent power. He's been a streaky hitter with more valleys than peaks. He doesn't hit LHP very well which makes platooning him with Morse a decent idea.

Brandon said...

I think he has potential to be a prety good first baseman...that's about all. I'd like to see him get a chance at some point.

Noel said...

I'd sure like to see one of the Mariners' prospects force their way onto the roster. Seems like the M's are always stretching to bring someone up rather than having no choice because he's playing so well. That's what LaHair needs to do. Push Sexson out. Hit so well they have no choice.