Cubs figuring ways to get Bryan LaHair, Anthony Rizzo in lineup
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org May 1, 2012 9:26PM
Top prospect Anthony Rizzo is off to a hot start in Class AAA Iowa. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Bryan LaHair finished his first April in the big leagues with far better power and run-production numbers than the higher profile first basemen available to the Cubs as free agents over the winter. Also included are top prospect Anthony Rizzo’s statistics at Class AAA Iowa this season.
HR Avg. Slug. RBI
Bryan LaHair 5 .390 .780 14
Carlos Pena, Rays 4 .286 .488 13
Prince Fielder, Tigers 3 .309 .444 11
Albert Pujols, Angels 0 .217 .304 4
Anthony Rizzo, Iowa 7 .384 .663 23
Note: All stats through April.
Updated: June 3, 2012 8:23AM
CINCINNATI — It’s not exactly the modern-day answer to Mantle and Maris, or Ruth and Gehrig, or even Mauer and Morneau.
But the Cubs can’t help but start thinking about what their lineup will look like with the organization’s top two power hitters in it, especially when they look at the team’s power-hitting numbers — or lack of them.
‘‘I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but obviously there’s going to be a point in time where you have to get their bats in the lineup at the same time,’’ manager Dale Sveum said of .780-slugging first baseman Bryan LaHair and Class AAA first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
‘‘Whether that’s two months, whether that’s a year, who knows?’’
It’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. The Cubs still want to see Rizzo get more seasoning at Iowa.
But the Cubs already have started talking internally about how they could make it work, mostly as a response to a team that has only four home runs that don’t belong to LaHair and a .301 slugging percentage when LaHair’s numbers are subtracted.
Cubs’ front-office officials wouldn’t comment publicly about specific personnel discussions, but it’s not out of the question that it could happen before the All-Star break, regardless of the Cubs’ record.
Whether it happens in June or August, it could be one of the more significant steps in the rebuilding process toward that ‘‘sustained success’’ the new regime is trying to achieve.
How significant, of course, depends on whether Rizzo is able to do what Cubs brass thinks he can in the majors and whether LaHair keeps up his consistent production.
The idea is to create the kind of left-handed presence in the lineup that the Cubs are looking at across the field this week in the Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. They were slated to bat third and fifth, respectively, Monday before the game was rained out.
‘‘When you’re sitting there discussing your projected lineup, you’ve got to figure out some kind of way to get two power-hitting left-handed bats in the lineup,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘You can just look across at the other locker room, and you see the advantages of Votto and Bruce. It’s a huge asset to have that in the lineup. Especially in the National League Central, where there’s no left-handed pitching, really.’’
The trade of center fielder Marlon Byrd to the Boston Red Sox a week and a half ago gives the Cubs the flexibility to pull the trigger on Rizzo anytime they want. However, they’d like to see at least another 100 or so plate appearances before even looking at promoting the slugger who struggled in a 49-game big-league debut for the San Diego Padres last year.
With David DeJesus’ ability to play center field and LaHair’s ability to play the corner spots, the move to get both bats in the lineup is obvious. Plus, Rizzo is a potential Gold Glove-caliber first baseman.
‘‘I wouldn’t even look at it as a position change for me,’’ said LaHair. ‘‘I’ve been playing the outfield my whole life. I’m very comfortable in the outfield. I mean, I want to be the first baseman, but if it helps for him to be at first, it is what it is.’’
LaHair said he hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about future lineups, but he has thought about sticking around with the Cubs ‘‘for a while,’’ and he knows Rizzo is a big part of the near future.
Based on what both guys are doing this season, it’s not hard to embrace the possibilities.
‘‘If he was to come here and do what he did there, here,’’ LaHair said, ‘‘and I keep doing what I’m doing, I mean, that could be dangerous.’’