It is the beginning of May so it must be time for the annual, "Where in the hell did ________ come from?" Last year, I wrote about how Wily Mo Pena was destroying Triple-A pitching and how he deserved another chance in the major leagues. He finally came up….and hit .204/.250/.416 while hitting seven rockets and signing a two-year contract to play baseball in Japan. This year, we can split that honor between one guy that has been crushing it in the majors this year and one that was just called up: Bryan LaHair and Brad Eldred.
LaHair has to be the story of the National League right now. He currently owns a .388/.468/.821 line that is mind boggling to look at. He is a three-true outcome guy right now with a 14 percent walk rate, a 33 percent strikeout rate, or hitting the tar out of a baseball. He has 15 extra base hits on the season with eight doubles and seven home runs and has a .543 batting average on balls in play in 79 plate appearances for the Cubs. This, from a guy who had five career home runs in 219 major league plate appearances coming into the season. Nobody, and I mean nobody, could have foreseen this level of success for 40 plate appearances let alone 80. This is a player that has spend more of the past SIX seasons hitting in the Pacific Coast League in both the Seattle and Chicago organizations.
|AAA (6 seasons)||AAA||653||2709||178||5||123||453||9||8||273||583||.297||.368||.528||.897|
For those six seasons, LaHair consistently peppered the friendly hitting environments with extra-base hits while striking out a fair amount of the time. Last season, he had his best season of his minor league career hitting 76 extra-base hits for Iowa while hitting .331/.405/.664 in 523 plate appearance. He seemed well on his way to a fine career in the PCL but came up in September for the Cubs and hit .288/.377/.508 and earned the clean-up job for the Cubs during spring training and has not looked back. Nelson Cruz is a player who persevered multiple Triple-A assignments until he found major league success but LaHair has 2,709 plate appearances in Triple-A in his career and has now found major league success at age 29. Unless you were his best friend in high school or his brother, there is no chances you spent a draft pick on him over the past two seasons and he was only on your roster from last season and you chased a category in the final weeks of the season.
The BABIP that is 250 points above norm is a quick thing to point at and say that he is destined to fail moving forward. If you think he could hit .260 with 30 home runs at the end of the season, that means he hits in the .230’s the rest of the way with 23 home runs. That looks a lot like what Carlos Pena did for the Cubs last season as he hit .225 with 28 home runs. If you were happy with Pena last season, you can happily own LaHair the rest of the way but if you think LaHair traded souls with Albert Pujols this offseason and will be an MVP candidate in 2012, expectations should be adjusted. I am all for staying with someone that has displayed talent, but LaHair’s 2012 success is not going to make me hang onto someone who has slugged for five seasons in Triple-A like Brad Eldred. Wait, him too?
Yes, Eldred has resurfaced from the fantasy dead, but not to the level of success LaHair has had this season. Eldred first came around in 2005 after hitting .299/.353/.676 between the upper two levels of the Pirates’ system. He did not walk often, struck out a fair amount, and hit more home runs than he did doubles. If you combine his minor and major league numbers that season, he had 69 extra base hits and drove in 102 runs. It did not take long to find the holes in his swing and Eldred was sent back to Triple-A where he has pretty much remained until he was called up last week by Detroit who had grown weary of Brandon Inge’s empty bat...until they needed to clear a roster spot for Delmon Young's return Friday. Eldred was designated for assignment by the Tigers after very short opportunity to play.
|AAA (8 seasons)||AAA||615||2427||137||8||151||438||39||15||174||639||.260||.327||.537||.864|
At the time of his callup, Eldred was hitting a robust .388/.444/1.013 in 90 plate appearances as he had 22 extra-base hits and 35 runs drive in – an astonishing pace of offensive production. Despite all of the time in Triple-A, the skill have remained the same while his home run to fly ball rate fluccuated from time to time. In his return to the big leagues, the old habits are back as he had just one walk in his first 17 plate appearances and has six strikeouts. The big lumbering guy actually has a triple this season, not due to a new found skill, but due to Raul Ibanez’s own lack of fielding skills.
LaHair has found more success than anyone expected, but it can only go down from here while Eldred could actually go up should another team give him a chance and he proves able to make more contact at the big league level. They are both good stories about a good skill getting another chance and you can see something similar happening for someone like Matt LaPorta who is turning 28 this season but is currently hitting .389/.458/.722 in Triple-A or even Trevor Crowe who has taken to hitting in Colorado Springs and has a .345/.418/.522 slash line so far. Both players were guys that some of us have owned at one point or another in our fantasy careers and two player that may be able to become the next fantasy zombies in 2012.