With the Cubs playing poorly, Cashner being set back, Colvin being sent down, umpires blowing calls, and all the other mountain of misery that has buried the team in the past few days, we need a bright spot. Tony Campana provided a small one last night, but that was in the shadow of Quade’s gross mishandling of Colvin. What Cub fans need is an undeniable, unshadowed dose of something good. I think I can help you out.
This week’s Minor League Line of the Week goes to a guy who could significantly improve the Cubs even before he arrives in Chicago. He is a walking position battle, and he could be heading to the north side as soon as September. His season so far could have the Cubs’ front office contemplating the future of four current major league players.
He is also the first Tennessee Smokie to pick up this honor as a Smokie this season. You’ve heard this name before and will be hearing it a lot more. This week’s honor goes to…
DJ LeMahieu, infielder for Double A Tennessee.
LeMahieu has had a great year, and that was before he hit .450 over the past ten days. In that span his OPS is over 1.000. For the week of May 8th, he had multiple hits in half his games. LeMahieu’s bat is not in question, and it never has been. He is likely to hit wherever he lands.
The question is, where does he land? For the most part, the Cubs have him splitting time between second and third base. The Tennessee infield is crowded with players needing at bats, but the manager there has done a nice job getting players at bats by taking advantage of the flexibility of guys like LeMahieu, Josh Vitters, and Ryan Flaherty. It’s not uncommon, for example, to see LeMahieu start a game at third base, but move second in the fifth when Vitters shifts from first to third because Rebel Ridling is entering the game on a double switch.
Coming into this season, we knew LeMahieu could hit, but he had very little power. This season he has already matched his home run total from last season (2), and his SLG is currently a full .100 higher than what we saw in 2010. He has the ability to consistently make solid contact and to drive the ball the other way, which as a right hander means he can poke hits between first and second. That knack along with his high average could make him a great two hitter.
But the Cubs already have a great two hitter playing second base in Darwin Barney. So does that move LeMahieu to third? Well, maybe not. Even with his improved power, LeMahieu still doesn’t have the power we would like to see from the corner infield positions. He projects as a 15 HR guy in the majors, and that’s at least 10 HR behind what we should see from Vitters or Flaherty. That said, his bat is going to force its way into the lineup at some point. His increased power numbers should already be making some decisions in the Cubs front office a lot easier, even now.
LeMahieu’s success in Tennessee makes it much easier to trade Aramis Ramirez. The Cubs currently have at least five viable options to take over at third already in the system, at least for the short term. Josh Vitters is, of course, on top of the list. He may not be ready to go when the job appears, though. Blake DeWitt could hold down third base for a while… he played there a lot for the Dodgers… or Scott Moore could probably give the Cubs a few good months from Iowa. And in Tennessee, Flaherty and LeMahieu join Vitters on the options list. In fact, I would not object to calling LeMahieu straight to the majors tomorrow and platooning him with DeWitt at third, should Aramis be moved. Right now, that would probably be my Plan A (but if Vitters warms up, that could change). Whether Aramis is traded or not, LeMahieu helps make it much easier for the Cubs to decide to not pick up Aramis’s option, meaning there is that much more money with which to pursue a slugging first baseman or a high quality lefty starter.
But don’t count LeMahieu out at second. No one anticipated that Darwin Barney would hit .330 and be one of the best two hitters in all baseball. No one even anticipated he would get much Rookie of the Year attention, let alone be the run away front runner. Now it is possible that this is the real Darwin Barney, but if it isn’t DJ LeMahieu will be more than happy to step in and take over.
I expect LeMahieu in Chicago in September, and I think he’ll break camp with the team in 2012. He makes Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt expendable, possible at the trade deadline. Of course with Barney and Vitters in the fold, the Cubs might listen hard to any offers for LeMahieu. He could be the centerpiece of a deal for a first baseman.
But for now he is the winner of the Cubbies Crib Minor League Line of the Week. I sincerely doubt it will be his last.