While I wait for the Smokies to finish off their Southern League Championship, so that I can cover all the high level prospects, I’ll look at how DJ LeMahieu performed this year for High-A Daytona.
LeMahieu was the Cubs’ second round pick in 2009, a middle infielder from LSU, who hits and throws right handed. LeMahieu played just three games in rookie ball before jumping to Low-A Peoria last season. He impressed during his professional debut, and hopes were he could develop some power this season.
DJ played the entire season in Daytona, though he is currently sitting on the AA Smokies bench for the playoffs, and he played shortstop, second base, and third base. That versatility will be his ticket to the major leagues, because his bat might never be starter level. In Daytona this season his slash line was .314/.346/.386/.732, good enough because of that batting average, but overall it reminds me of a certain shortstop that just left town.
LeMahieu did lead all Cubs’ minor league players in hits this season with 174, but had only 24 doubles, 5 triples, and two home runs. He went 15-22 on stolen base attempts, though he doesn’t have anything above average speed. The hope was that his gap power might develop a little more as he climbed the ranks, but so far that hasn’t happened. He also relied on a .351 BABAIP this season to drive that high batting average, which is probably not sustainable without blazing speed. Without an improved walk rate though, that BABIP will be key to LeMahieu being a productive batter.
The biggest concern from this season is LeMahieu’s platoon splits. He hit .408 against left-handed pitchers this season, and had a .927 OPS. Against right handed pitchers, LeMahieu hit just .277 and had a .654 OPS. That is extremely troubling, and the kind of thing that often sinks prospects as they start to face better pitching.
I hate to compare players in the organization based on school they went to and skin color, but LeMahieu reminds me a lot of Ryan Theriot. He has more power already, has a much larger body, but his major league future is essentially what Theriot has become. A decent contact hitter who is valuable because he won’t make much money, and can play a number of infield positions.
Defensively, LeMahieu rates out fairly well. Last season he was +5 at shortstop according to Total Zone, and -1 at second base. He played mostly second base this season, making only three errors all season there. He also played shortstop and third, making five errors at each position. It looks like his future full time position is second base, but that the Cubs are going to keep playing him around the infield, so that he won’t be blocked by better players in front of him.
LeMahieu will never be a star, but he does have a chance at being a useful utility player. It would be really nice to see him learn to walk more, and to develop more power, even if it’s just doubles power. Since he plays so many different positions, he can help a team even with an average bat. Perhaps he will be ready for the major leagues sometime in late 2012.