LaHair trying to maximize opportunity with Cubs

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LaHair trying to maximize opportunity with Cubs

Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011
Posted: 11:15 p.m. Updated: 11:49 p.m. By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney
Box score
READ: Cubs tell Brett Jackson wait until next year
WATCH: Dusty Baker talks NL Central on CTL
WATCH: Kap and Hollandsworth sing the stretch
WATCH: Campana says he knows he was safe
WATCH: Quade on Leake's performance

The Cubs gathered in the green seats behind their dugout late Tuesday afternoon for their annual photo. The board of directors sat in the first row, surrounded by people from marketing, media relations, baseball operations, actual players and the coaching staff.

You can be certain that the exact same group wont be there next year.

The next general manager isnt working for the organization right now. But in the final three weeks of this lost season, there will still be revealing moments.

Bryan LaHair will turn 29 in November, long past the expiration date for prospects. He lasted until the 39th round of the 2002 draft and spent parts of the past six seasons on the Triple-A level, where he has nothing left to prove.

The Pacific Coast League MVP stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 240 pounds. He absolutely hammered Mike Leakes 90 mph fastball beyond the right-field seats.

Wrigley Field was mostly empty on a cold Tuesday night nowhere near the announced crowd of 35,297 but it got loud after LaHairs two-out, two-run pinch-hit homer tied the game in the ninth inning.

Leake was one pitch away from a complete-game shutout before LaHair showed the Cincinnati Reds what he did all season long in Iowa, where he generated 38 homers and 109 RBI.

It was an incredible moment, LaHair said. This is an incredible place to play.

Few bothered to stick around until the 13th inning when John Grabow the sixth Cubs reliever that night gave up back-to-back doubles to left-center field. After almost four hours, it finally ended as a 4-2 loss at 11 p.m.

LaHair can play the outfield, where the Cubs dont seem to have any openings, and first base, where Carlos Pena has repeatedly expressed a desire to return. Thats on the agenda for the next administration.

Pena gave LaHair a scouting report on Leake before he stepped to the plate and hit his first big-league homer since Sept. 20, 2008, when he was with the Seattle Mariners. LaHairs gone 4-for-9 since being called up last week. Though its unlikely hell take starts away from Pena and get regular at-bats, this cant hurt his chances.

(Penas) been amazing since I walked in here, LaHair said. Hes really made me feel comfortable. (Were) just trying to feed off each other.

When LaHair was asked the other day about what this final month could do for his career, he sounded like someone in a 12-step program: Im just trying to take one day at a time. This time he got one unforgettable night.

The Cashner Plan
The Cubs are still going to be cautious, but the wait is almost over for Andrew Cashner, whos expected to be available out of the bullpen on Wednesday night. This would mark his first time on a major-league mound in almost five months after straining his rotator cuff.

The plan is to use Cashner for an inning at a time, and not on back-to-back days. He wont be the power arm to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning look for him in lower-leverage situations.

Cashner, who turns 25 on Sunday, will get stretched out as a starter in the Arizona Fall League. He would be a game-changer for the 2012 rotation.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Looking at Casey Kelly and where Cubs are placing next bets on pitching

Looking at Casey Kelly and where Cubs are placing next bets on pitching

MESA, Ariz. – The headliner prospect from the blockbuster Adrian Gonzalez trade between the Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres has a locker next to Anthony Rizzo.  
 
On one end of the clubhouse inside the Under Armour Performance Center, Rizzo has his personal space, where he chats with national reporters and changes in and out of Cubs gear, depending on the workout, photo shoot or commercial to film.   
 
On the other side of that open entrance to the bathrooms and showers sits Casey Kelly, Rizzo's good friend who entered 2010 as Baseball America's No. 24 overall prospect and ended it as a centerpiece to the Gonzalez deal. 
 
Even as the complementary player, Rizzo didn't live up to the hype at Petco Park, either. But Rizzo matured into an All-Star/Gold Glove first baseman after the architects involved in the Gonzalez trade – Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod – targeted him for the Wrigley Field rebuild.
 
The next phase revolves entirely around pitching, providing insurance for the defending World Series champs and finding some answers for a rotation that might be looking at a 60-percent turnover rate by Opening Day 2018. 
 
The volume strategy – and the confidence from coaching up Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks – led to minor-league deals for pitchers like Kelly and Williams Perez and smaller trades for Alec Mills and Eddie Butler.  
 
"I don't know if we'll know the guy's a diamond in the rough here," Hoyer said. "But we hope this is the start of it and those guys can go to Iowa and really get a chance to continue to refine what they do well. 
 
"And then hopefully we'll see them in the big leagues. But we're excited about the pitching depth. We haven't brought that guy from the draft all the way up to the big leagues yet. But I think we've done a good job of finding some guys that are buy-lows. And hopefully those guys are in that category."   
 
Mills – who got designated for assignment in early February when the Kansas City Royals signed ex-Cub Jason Hammel to a two-year, $16 million contract – threw two scoreless innings in Tuesday's 7-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels at Sloan Park in Mesa.
 
Butler – Baseball America's No. 24 overall prospect heading into the 2014 season – can re-acclimate after his Coors Field experience and will start Wednesday against the Royals at Surprise Stadium.       
 
As a quarterback committed to the University of Tennessee, Kelly had enough leverage coming out of Sarasota High School in Florida to command a $3 million bonus in 2008. The 30th overall pick also had enough athleticism to negotiate an agreement where he would split time between pitching and shortstop at Boston's lower levels before choosing the perceived fastest path through the farm system.  
 
"It all comes full circle," Kelly said.  
 
Now 27, Kelly missed the entire 2013 season and most of the 2014 season after Dr. James Andrews performed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Kelly made 10 appearances (5.82 ERA) with the Atlanta Braves last year and needed a fresh start.  
 
"I wanted to go with a team that had a good medical staff, good training staff," Kelly said. "I obviously have people in the organization that know me from before, which obviously helps. And I want to be with the team that just won the World Series. You know that they're doing it the right way." 
 
Kelly's father, Pat, played 13 professional seasons and overlapped as a minor-league instructor in the Cincinnati Reds organization with Chris Bosio. Kelly wanted the chance to work directly with the Cubs pitching coach: "I thought it was going to be a great thing for me and my career."
 
Through six draft classes, the Epstein administration has so far produced only one pitcher who has made it to the big-league team. Promising lefty Rob Zastryzny debuted last summer and figures to be one phone call away at Triple-A. Manager Joe Maddon is also hyping Pierce Johnson's starter-to-reliever transition as a Wade Davis situation.
 
But at the major-league level, the Cubs have overseen a remarkable run of good health with their rotation. Four pitchers made between 31 and 33 starts in 2015, while five pitchers accounted for at least 29 starts last season. Even the people who brought you The Foundation for Sustained Success know that's not sustainable.
 
"Our training staff does a great job and our guys are really diligent," Hoyer said. "But we know there's some luck involved in that. Teams have injuries and we've been fortunate to avoid big injuries for the last two years. 
 
"We've got a great infrastructure. We game-plan really well. I think we put our guys in a position where they can succeed, with our defense and our game-planning. But we also don't pretend we have the answers and we know we can do it over and over."

March Madness: Projecting Opening Day roster for Cubs

March Madness: Projecting Opening Day roster for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs have already decided who should face Dexter Fowler and the St. Louis Cardinals in front of a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium and a national audience on ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball."  
 
"Of course," manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday at the Sloan Park complex. "But I just got to talk to the people. And I just can't say it without talking to them first."
 
Jon Lester – who started Game 1 in all three playoff rounds last year – would be the obvious choice for the Opening Night assignment on April 2. But the Cubs also have a Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta), an ERA titleholder (Kyle Hendricks) and another three-time World Series champion (John Lackey) in their rotation. 
 
Recognizing the wear and tear from back-to-back playoff runs – and anticipating another stressful October – The Big Four is being held back until at least the second weekend of Cactus League play and slowly ramping up again. 
 
It's another sign March Madness isn't happening at a camp where maybe 23 or 24 spots on the 25-man roster had been secured before pitchers and catchers even reported to Arizona and the franchise no longer has to deal with the 1908 baggage. 
 
A look at where things now stand for the defending World Series champs, with injuries being the biggest X-factor between Mesa and St. Louis:  
 
• Whether or not Brett Anderson has the inside track to the fifth-starter job, it's still extremely difficult to see the Cubs stashing him in the bullpen, given his extensive medical file, inexperience as a reliever and Mike Montgomery's comfort level as a swingman.     
 
Why mess with Anderson's routine if he can click with pitching coach Chris Bosio and resemble the groundball pitcher who made 31 starts and put up a 3.69 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015? 
 
"He's really baseball bright," Maddon said. "He knows what he's doing out there. I love his stuff. I know him and 'Boz' are working on different thoughts mechanically to help prevent injury. But I like it a lot – not a little bit. This guy is really good. The big thing is just health with him. You keep this fellow healthy – he can throw some significant numbers up there."
 
There's an element of luck involved – and some came into the organization with durability on their resumes – but the Cubs had five pitchers make at least 29 starts last season and hope that infrastructure will help Anderson.
 
"We've addressed it with him," Maddon said. "We've given him different thoughts. I'm sure every team that he's played with has had the same kind of thoughts. But maybe just the mechanical tweak, maybe a different method of work within a clubhouse, strength and conditioning, trainers, etc., maybe that'll help."

[RELATED: Brett Anderson’s main takeaway from Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio]
 
There are a lot of maybes with Anderson, a Tommy John survivor who underwent surgical procedures on his lower back in 2014 and 2016. But the Cubs also see a lot of upside and motivation in a lefty working on a one-year, $3.5 million incentive-laden deal.  
 
"I would be curious to see this guy with a full season of good health," Maddon said, "because it might even be better than a lot of teams' third and second starters. This guy is that good. With health, there's no telling.
     
"If we could get him out there for like 160-175 (innings), if he could do something like that, my God, it would be like outstanding."
 
• Working backwards from All-Star closer Wade Davis and Maddon's "hybrid moment" for Anderson or Montgomery, the Cubs appear to have six relievers for six slots on what figures to be a 13-man pitching staff: Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefty Brian Duensing. 
 
"The pitching's really gotten significantly better," Maddon said. "With good health, it's going to be very difficult (making those decisions). These guys have been impressive. I'm not all about the spring-training evaluation. Going off their track records and maybe projecting a little bit, we have a lot of interesting pitching candidates. It's gotten a lot thicker."
 
• One wild card is Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith – who spent last season with the New York Yankees' Double-A affiliate – and how creative the Cubs get with the roster sleight of hand. (Remember how Major League Baseball took away a Cubs' pick in the 2013 Rule 5 draft and gave it to the Philadelphia Phillies to settle the Lendy Castillo grievance.)  
 
"We're going to be forced to try to look under the hood a little bit more," Maddon said. "If you're overwhelmed, then you're going to probably try to manipulate it to the point where you can keep a guy like that."
 
• The Cubs have 11 locks among the position players, a group of versatile defenders who give Maddon so much flexibility with lineup decisions and in-game moves: Willson Contreras; Miguel Montero; Anthony Rizzo; Ben Zobrist; Addison Russell; Kris Bryant; Javier Baez; Kyle Schwarber; Jason Heyward; Jon Jay; and Albert Almora Jr.     
 
That means the last bench spot could come down to outfielder Matt Szczur (no minor-league options left) or the whims of infielder Tommy La Stella (who initially refused to report to Triple-A Iowa last summer and talked about considering retirement).
 
"That's probably a fairer question on March 25," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "So many things can happen between now and then, as far as injuries and things like that. We're going to have some hard decisions at the end of camp. We have a lot of talent here. 
 
"People know what the bones of our team are, but we definitely have to make some tough decisions as far as the construction of the pitching staff and the bench."