Bryan LaHair trying to show Cubs he belongs in big time
By Gordon Wittenmyer September 10, 2011 12:42AM
Josh Thole, Carlos Pena
Updated: November 24, 2011 12:24AM
NEW YORK — It took Bryan LaHair long enough to get here. And whether anyone else believes he’s still a prospect, he doesn’t plan to go away any time soon.
On the other hand, Carlos Pena doesn’t want to leave the Cubs, says he’s savoring every moment he has in a Cubs uniform and sounds more each day like he might be willing to think about some version of ‘‘pillow contract’’ again this winter.
While some still speculate — and fans still hold out hope — that Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols will be manning first base for the Cubs next season, it’s more likely your leading candidates for the position in 2012 are the guys who spent Friday’s game against the New York Mets at first and in right field.
The guys who drove in the Cubs’ first three runs with a triple (LaHair) and mammoth two-run homer (Pena).
Pena’s 27th homer put him one away from last year’s total with the Tampa Bay Rays and within reach of becoming the first Cubs lefty hitter with 30 since Fred McGriff nine years ago.
We knew Pena was in the mix when the Cubs declined to trade him to the New York Yankees last month. But LaHair? At 28, the 2002 39th-round draft pick the Cubs signed as a minor-league free agent before last season is no longer even considered a prospect by a lot of people in the game.
‘‘I know the kind of hitter that I am,’’ said LaHair, whose 45-game debut with the Seattle Mariners in 2008 was hampered by a fracture in his foot that wasn’t discovered until afterward. ‘‘I know the kind of work that I put in. . . . I’m not scared to be here playing. I’m very comfortable being here. I believe I can hit here.’’
Cubs manager Mike Quade, who has been known to occasionally champion an underdog, believes in him enough to play him in the unfamiliar right-field spot the last two games just to give him at-bats.
‘‘It’s more about what he’s done since he’s arrived than anything,’’ Quade said of this year’s minor-league home-run champion (38), who’s 6-for-15 with a game-tying homer (Tuesday), double and triple in four starts and a pinch-hit at-bat. ‘‘I just wanted to see him another day.’’
It has cost Tyler Colvin a couple of starts in right field in the short term. And in the long term, it would still seem to be a long shot for LaHair.
But maybe that’s just knee-jerk perception based on all the longtime minor-leaguers with enough success to break in but not break through —as opposed to guys like Casey Blake, Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones, who all nearly withered on the Class AAA vine before becoming established later in their careers with other teams.
‘‘People are going to have their opinions,’’ Quade said. ‘‘To hell with labels or anything else. He’s come up and gotten off to a good start, and I’m really impressed with that. If you can hit, you can hit. He’s going to get an opportunity to swing the bat over the next month and see if he can’t make an impression.’’