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Cubs’ first base job belongs to LaHair — for now

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 10:20 a.m. CDT

MESA, Ariz. (MCT) — Top prospect Anthony Rizzo may be the first baseman of the Cubs’ future, but Bryan LaHair has the job for the time being.

How long he keeps it is up to the 29-year-old LaHair, who is under pressure to repeat his minor league success at the major league level. He knows there will be skeptics who believe he’s an inexpensive, short-term solution on a team waiting to go with the more highly touted prospect, but LaHair is confident he can stick around a while.

“Rizzo is a great kid,” LaHair said. “I wish the best for him. I hope he has a great spring, and he’s a great talent. I’m sure we’re going to work together. We’re friends and teammates. I’m pulling for him just like I’m sure he’s pulling for me.”

The Cubs got Rizzo from the Padres, general manager Jed Hoyer’s former team, after Hoyer had acquired Rizzo from Theo Epstein’s Red Sox the previous year in the Adrian Gonzalez deal. One national writer referred to Rizzo as Hoyer’s “lucky rabbit’s foot,” and he’s on target to be called up at some point this season.

But manager Dale Sveum was adamant on Monday when he said the job belongs to LaHair.

“There’s always a chance of somebody coming into spring training, that guy that lights things up or whatever,” Sveum said. “But I think right now we’re committed to LaHair being our first baseman.”

LaHair has waited 10 years for a chance to become an everyday player in the majors, having played 65 games with the Mariners and the Cubs. He led all minor-leaguers with 38 home runs at Triple-A Iowa last year, earning Pacific Coast League MVP honors and a September call-up to the Cubs.

Playing in the Venezuelan winter league this offseason, LaHair heard constant rumors about free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder coming to the Cubs.

“Yeah, that was fun,” he said. “I got a whole bunch of emails and stuff, and for a while there I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. They had the two big dogs out there — Prince and (Albert) Pujols available. When they came off the board, that felt a lot better.”

LaHair was informed early on by Epstein and Hoyer to ignore the rumors, that he was their guy.

“In the beginning they told me the whole Pujols-Fielder thing was all rumors at the time,” he said. “They didn’t really have much intention (on signing either one). Baseball can change day to day, so you never know, but it sounded like Theo really wanted to give me an opportunity.

“I think he feels like I’m capable and I have the abilities to succeed at the big league level, and that’s what I want to show them.”

Anyone who has gone this long without a major league job tends to get a reputation as a 4A player, or someone too good for the minors but not quite good enough for the majors. LaHair hopes it’s a rap that doesn’t stick.

“Sometimes guys can’t do certain things,” Sveum said. “But this kid obviously — the last two years and going to winter ball — has made some adjustments and has been tearing the cover off the ball no matter where he goes. He swung the bat pretty well when he came up in September last year.

“Some guys, whether something clicks with something swinging the bat or somebody tells them one little thing and all of a sudden it all comes together ... unfortunately for some kids it comes a little bit later, but the fact of the matter is I think it’s clicked for him right now.”

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