If nothing else, D.J. LeMahieu increased his name recognition yesterday by hitting a walk-off home run in a televised game. Now that more of the Cubs faithful have heard of him, I thought I'd break down LeMahieu's past and some of the future scouting reports on the shortstop.
How did he get here?
D.J. LeMahieu was originally drafted out of high school by the Detroit Tigers in the 41st round of the 2008 amateur draft. LeMahieu passed for a scholarship to LSU but made a splash in the Cape Cod league that summer and was named the 6th best prospect in Cape Cod by Baseball America.
LeMahieu was a stand-out middle infielder at LSU, the alma mater of former Cubs Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot. In 2008 and 2009, LeMahieu led LSU to the College World Series. LeMahieu was moved back-and-forth between shortstop and second base while at LSU. Some scouts consider his range and his 6'4 frame be an obstacle for his future at shortstop. The Tigers won it all in 2009 and LeMahieu was named to the all-tournament team. Following his sophomore year, LeMahieu was drafted by the Cubs with the 79th overall pick.
The Story So Far
Following the 2009 draft, LeMahieu impressed in his short stint at Peoria. (LeMahieu made a brief trip through Arizona ball but it is common for all freshly drafted players to play at least a game or two in Arizona while they wait for their paperwork to clear with the organization. This is still a business at the end of the day...) In 38 games, LeMahieu carried a.316/.371/.368 line. We'll get to LeMahieu's lack of home run power in a minute.
The showing at Peoria impressed the Cubs enough to start D.J. in High-A Daytona in 2010. LeMahieu impressed again, hitting .314/.346/.386 with 2 home runs. LeMahieu spent half of his time in Daytona covering second base but spent the other half at shortstop and third.
Baseball America named LeMahieu the best hit-for-average prospect in the Cubs organization for 2011. While he did not crack a lot of top-10 lists, LeMahieu may now be among the top 10 Cubs hitting prospects following the Garza trade. LeMahieu "frustrates" a lot of scouts due to his lack of home run power in spite of his 6'4 frame. DJ's power is currently thought of as gap-to-gap, a great code word for "Why isn't this guy hitting home runs?" LeMahieu no longer has Hak-Ju Lee to compete with at shortstop and will probably start the season AA Tennessee this year but will probably remain at second base given the arrival of Starlin Castro as the future shortstop for the Cubs. Many scouts see LeMahieu as having a third base defensive skill set which will cause an issue if his home run power does not develop.
LeMahieu is a bit of an enigma for the Cubs organization. They seem to prefer prospects who show they can drive the ball, like Vitters or Jackson, rather than prospects who demonstrate hit-for-average skills. I have a lot of concerns about the quest to unlock DJ's power. Scouts claim that DJ needs to be pickier with the pitches he chooses to swing at. That would explain his low strikeout ratio but lack of a lot of walks to go with it. I don't know what the track record is on trying to teach prospects to swing at less pitches and drive the ones they do pitch, but Kirby Puckett was once a opposite field slap hitter, so there's hope.