LaHair Blossoming in Third Pro Season

Last season, Bryan LaHair showed glimpses. This season, the towering first baseman is putting on a show. As a result, the Mariners' 39th round pick in 2002 is working his way up the prospect ladder and becoming one of the top first baseman in Seattle's minor league system.

All LaHair really ever needed was a shot, a chance to showcase his powerful bat and extraordinary defense. And with the Mariners organization, the 22-year-old has got his wish.

Last season, as a second year pro, he started off hot in Everett and was quickly promoted to Mid-A Wisconsin, where he remained for the rest of the season. LaHair hit .279 with five home runs and 24 doubles in 67 games with the Timber Rattlers.

Being 22 years old heading into 2005, LaHair knew he was in for a "make or break" year heading into his third pro season. Would he build on the momentum of 2004 and take advantage of the tiny ballparks and light air of the California League? Or would the slugger be exposed to the more experienced pitchers in Advanced Class A?

Rather than let fate decide, LaHair put in countless hours over the offseason to improve his abilities on the field. Not just at the plate, but also in the field, where he was still getting accustomed to first base after playing in the outfield throughout high school and college.

The work paid off.

LaHair's stock has risen considerably this season, thanks to his consistent play on both sides of the ball with the 66ers. He's been the team's best hitter while batting out of the cleanup spot - .291, 15 HR, 17 2B, 75 RBI - and been one of the top defensive first baseman in the Cal League.

"I'm extremely happy with the way the season is going but by no means am I satisfied with what I've done," said LaHair, who enjoys spending his down time with his fiance, Nicole. "There is still a lot to improve. I'm pleased, but not satisfied."

LaHair grew up in Massachusetts as a multi-sport star, excelling in both baseball and basketball with his 6-foot-5 frame. As a starting small forward on his basketball team, coached by current Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi, his role was to be the defensive stopper, shutting down the opponent's best offensive player. On the diamond, his role was simpler - crush the baseball.

Growing up in the cold climate of the Northeast, an area of the country that doesn't produce many baseball players, LaHair was lucky enough to have the support of his parents, Catherine and Norman, and played in more games than most other high school kids in his area.

"I always played AAU in the summer," said LaHair, estimating that there were anywhere from 70-80 games a year, "and that helped out a lot."

The rigorous schedule allowed LaHair to keep up with other young baseball players from warmer climates like Florida and California, where baseball is a year-round sport.

LaHair signed with Clemson University out of high school, the same school that Inland Empire reliever Aaron Trolia attended for a year, but didn't stay there long enough to play for the Tigers.

"I went there for fall semester but realized it wasn't the right spot for me," said LaHair. "I felt like the time I spent there I learned a lot, but at the time it wasn't the right fit for me."

He transferred after the fall, going back to Massachusetts to take some classes at a junior college before ultimately ending up at St. Petersburg College in Florida in 2001.

It was there that LaHair caught the attention of the Mariners, who selected the raw athlete with the 1180th selection in the 2002 draft. LaHair played his second season at St. Petersburg that spring before signing with the Mariners in 2003 and beginning his pro career.

He says his career immediately got off on the right track when he reported to Arizona in the early summer of 2003.

"I had a great opportunity to work with Scott Steinmann and Tommy Cruz, who in my opinion really helped me gain the confidence that I needed," said LaHair. "I was real fortunate to be able to have those guys single me out on occasion to help develop my potential. It was just a great opportunity for me to establish myself."

LaHair's first season with Everett in 2003 didn't exactly knock anyone's socks off - he batted just .244 with two home runs in 57 games - but he never stopped doubting his abilities.

So he kept working, and he continued improving, and in the two years that have since passed he's become one of the top young first base prospects in the Mariners' system. While it's been an eye-opening season for LaHair, he views the success only as added incentive to work harder.

"I want to improve on every aspect," said LaHair. "I work real hard and in my opinion success comes through hard work."

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