Cubs Have Found A Hitter In LeMahieu





MESA, ARIZ.When the Cubs selected D.J. LeMahieu in the second round of the 2009 draft, they knew there were probably some players available with better tools. But they also knew that the Louisiana State shortstop could hit, and figured he was projectable in a variety of ways.

"He's a baseball rat," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "He's a guy who is the first guy in the clubhouse, a guy who'll start hitting at 7 in the morning. That's not just for us, either. We knew that was the way he'd been for years when we drafted him."

LeMahieu, 22, has developed a reputation as arguably the system's top hitter for average. He has a .316/.353/.386 average in 176 career games, and gained respect by hitting .344 in the second half of 2010 at high Class A Daytona, where young players often wilt in the withering heat, en route to finishing .314/.346/.386 overall with two home runs and 73 RBIs. He's ticketed for Double-A Tennessee in 2011, with the biggest decision being whether he's a regular at second base or third base.

Some think that LeMahieu projects as a utility player in the big leagues, but the Cubs have openings for young players at second and third, and LeMahieu's bat is good enough to get him in the discussion.

He's considered average defensively and may not develop the kind of power that is expected at third base. But Hendry points out that LeMahieu added 18 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame over the winter while working in Mesa over in a program they call "Camp Colvin," after Tyler Colvin, the outfielder who made huge strides in 2011 after similarly intensive offseason workouts.

"Obviously he did the Colvin plan all winter, and got a lot stronger already," Hendry said. "This is a major league everyday player down the road, no doubt."

LeMahieu has only a .386 slugging percentage as a pro, with two career home runs. He stole 15 bases a year ago but doesn't have the speed to project as a serious base-stealing threat. The one thing the Cubs know he can do is hit, and that's a pretty valuable tool.

Cubbyhole

• A poor start to spring training by Carlos Silva increased the chances that at least one spot in the Cubs' rotation will go to a prospect. Righthander Casey Coleman was competing against Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija for a job.

• Position changes in minor league camp include third baseman Charles Thomas and catcher Alvaro Sosa moving to pitcher, and righthander Chris Huseby to the outfield. Huseby got a $1.3 million bonus to sign in 2006 but never progressed beyond high Class A.