By Roger Hoover / Smokies Radio Network
Many things have changed for the Chicago Cubs this offseason, as new President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer put their touches on the Cubs roster and farm system. Many Cubs have changed organizations over the winter, including several former Tennessee Smokies. This week, the Smokies Radio Network will profile five notable former Smokies who will play for new organizations in 2012. We’ll take a look at what’s new for these players, as well as reflect on their time at Smokies Park.
Earlier in the week we examined one of the more high profile Cubs trades of the offseason in the deal that sent Andrew Cashner to San Diego in exchange for first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Today’s post also deals with a Cubs trade this season that involved two former Smokies.
On Dec. 8, 2011, the final day of the Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas, Tex., the Cubs traded outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder D.J. LeMahieu to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for pitcher Casey Weathers and third baseman Ian Stewart.
In the deal, the Cubs parted ways with Colvin and LeMahieu, players that spent time in Tennessee and Chicago over the past several years. Today’s post focuses on LeMahieu, while tomorrow we will examine Colvin’s new situation in Colorado.
2011 was a banner year for LeMahieu, as made his major league debut with the Cubs and performed at an elite level in the minors. Ranked by Baseball America as the 11th-best prospect in the Cubs organization entering the year, LeMahieu began the season as the Opening Day starter at second base for Tennessee.
LeMahieu went on to post some of the best numbers of his career in the first 50 games of the season with the Smokies. Splitting time at second and third base, LeMahieu hit .358 (67-187) which led the Southern League at the time of his promotion to the big leagues on May 30.
In addition to his high batting average, LeMahieu hit a pair of homers and drove in 27 runs while helping Tennessee gain a commanding lead in the standings en route to a First Half North Division Championship.
LeMahieu’s call-up to the big leagues coincided with the Cubs placing second baseman Jeff Baker on the disabled list. While he was hitless in his first two big league at-bats at Wrigley Field, LeMahieu recorded his first major league hit on June 3 in St. Louis at Busch Stadium.
LeMahieu spent most of June with the Cubs, where in 23 games he hit .243 with an RBI that he collected in a 3-4 performance against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field on June 15.
On June 28, LeMahieu was transferred to Triple-A Iowa where he spent the remainder of the minor league season. With the I-Cubs he hit .286 with three homers and 23 RBI during 53 games. In 108 minor league games with Tennessee and Iowa, LeMahieu hit .318 with five homers and 50 RBI.
When the rosters expanded for the Cubs in September, LeMahieu was one of several players called up to finish the year in Chicago. In his second stint with the Cubs, LeMahieu performed better at the plate, hitting .261 as he drove in three runs in 14 games and six starts. In all, LeMahieu hit .250 with four RBI during his 37 games with the Cubs in 2011.
2010 also marked a year of success for LeMahieu, hitting .314 for the Daytona Cubs as he was named to the Florida State League All-Star Team. LeMahieu received his first promotion to Double-A Tennessee on September 9, joining the Smokies for the Southern League playoffs.
LeMahieu went hitless in two at-bats during the playoffs as Tennessee defeated West Tenn in the North Division Championship Series before falling to Jacksonville in four games in the Southern League Championship Series.
LeMahieu’s professional career began in 2009 after being selected by the Cubs in the second round of the draft out of Louisiana State University. LeMahieu’s leadership guided LSU to the 2009 National Championship, and he was named to the College World Series All-Tournament Team.
What the Move Means for LeMahieu: As stated in yesterday’s post on infielder Ryan Flaherty, the Cubs have strong stable of middle infielders, blocking LeMahieu’s path to an everyday role with the Cubs in 2012.
The trade gives LeMahieu a change of scenery with the Rockies in a ballpark that is very hitter friendly due to the high altitude. Colorado has had a busy offseason, and acquired more middle infield help on January 21 in a trade with the Boston Red Sox that sent Marco Scutaro to the Rockies.
Scutaro, who hit .299 with the Red Sox last season, will likely be the Opening Day starter for the Rockies at second base to begin the season. The Rockies have established starters across the infield in Todd Helton at first, Scutaro at second, Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop and Casey Blake at third. LeMahieu is on Colorado’s 40-man roster and will have the opportunity to compete for a spot on the Rockies’ bench in spring training.
What the Move Means for the Cubs: While the Cubs have several options at second base entering 2012, a key concern of the offseason was finding a solution at third base.
It was well known at the end of the 2011 season that the Cubs would be parting ways with Aramis Ramirez, who had started at third base for Chicago since 2003.
The trade with the Rockies delivered the Cubs their third baseman for 2012 in Ian Stewart, who is looking to get his career back on track after a rough season a year ago.
Stewart is a career .236 hitter who has hit 54 homers with 187 RBI since his major league debut with Colorado in 2007. He was drafted out of high school in 2003 in the first round with the tenth overall pick.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer believes Stewart is just entering into his prime, and can help Chicago for years to come.
“We feel there’s a ton of potential in there,” Hoyer told the Chicago Tribune in December. “He provides us with a left-handed bat at third base, he’s the right age, he’s affordable. We expect big things out of Ian.”
Be sure to check back tomorrow for this week’s final installment of Smokies on the Move as we profile outfielder Tyler Colvin, and also check out earlier features on Andrew Cashner, Marwin Gonzalez, and Ryan Flaherty.