LaHair starts in RF as Cubs consider Rizzo

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs’ new look on defense Monday could be one to help them get some more offense for the remainder of the season.

With Anthony Rizzo close to being called up from Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs gave first baseman Bryan LaHair a look in right field despite no outfield work this season. Rizzo only plays first base.

“I’m not too worried about that,” LaHair said. “I’ll put in the work now and I’ve played the outfield quite a bit in my life. It should be a pretty minor adjustment for me.”

Despite the windy conditions, LaHair looked like a natural in the first inning when he broke back on a drive from Gordon Beckham and caught the ball in stride on the warning track. He wasn’t affected at the plate either, hitting a home run in the third inning.

Last season when LaHair was called up to the major leagues he played in right field nine times and in left field five times.

“Obviously LaHair playing right field is something that eventually may happen,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “There is a day Rizzo is going to be here so we need to get [LaHair] acclimated to the outfield.”

The 24-year-old Rizzo has been tearing up Triple-A pitching all season, leading all minor leaguers with 23 home runs heading into play Monday. He is batting .364 with 59 RBIs and a 1.170 OPS.

Rizzo had big minor league numbers in 2011 during his time in the San Diego Padres organization and then struggled in his two months at the big league level. Cubs officials are preparing for a better result from the slick-fielding Rizzo.

“You have to look at what happened last year,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said on Monday. “He was rushed a little bit, came up and then struggled, so it is important to put players in a position to succeed when potentially we do make a move.”

If Rizzo is called up to the major leagues before Saturday he will qualify for free agency in 2017 instead of 2018. A recall any time after Friday gives him one more season of club control. Nobody with the Cubs was willing to say that’s why the red-hot Rizzo has still not arrived despite numbers that have begged for a promotion. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer said it comes down to the player's readiness.

“There is not much about that, you just have to focus on their individual player development plan,” Epstein said. “Certain players are going to come up and there will be a certain adjustment period anyway, so I don’t think you can worry about putting them in perfect scenarios.

“It was either Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or both that started out 1-for-50 and wanted to quit and go home. With young players you do everything you can to develop them till you’re confident they are ready. Then you let them go.”

The other area that concerns the Cubs business office is season ticket sales in 2013 and beyond. The fan base could start getting a little antsy with ticket prices still in the top 5 highest in baseball and the product on the field among the worst. A view of top young prospects like Rizzo is needed to keep the fans focused on how good the future can be, while Epstein and company build up the talent as quickly as they can.