CINCINNATI -- Bryan LaHair may not know where he's playing in 2012, but he has his offseason planned.
LaHair will play one month for Magallenes in the Venezuelan Winter League, then return home for a small break before joining Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass., for an intense five-week strength, flexibility and conditioning program. He went prior to this season, and the extra effort paid off with 38 homers at Triple-A Iowa and the Pacific Coast League MVP award.
LaHair said scouts from Japanese teams did contact him this summer about possibly playing overseas but the first baseman/outfielder, who was batting .458 with one homer and four RBIs since being called up to the Cubs, said he wants to try to find a job with a Major League team in the U.S. next year.
Castro looking forward to hit No. 200
CINCINNATI -- Starlin Castro is closing in on 200 hits, and he's eager to reach the goal that Alfonso Soriano encouraged the Cubs shortstop to pursue at the start of the year.
"At the beginning of the season, Soriano told me, 'Try to get 200 hits,'" Castro said Wednesday. "'If you do 40 [hits] a month, you can do it.' Now, I'm 10 hits from 200. That's nice."
The National League hits leader, Castro has increased his numbers with four hitting streaks of at least 10 games this year. He's the first Cubs player to do that since Mark Grace had four in 1992.
Castro singled to lead off Wednesday against the Reds, and now has reached base safely in a career-high 27 straight games. He's the second Cubs player since 2003 to reach in at least 20 in a row. Ryan Theriot did so in 28 consecutive games in 2007.
For the night, Castro went 2-for-3, and now has 192 hits.
"We're talking about a young kid and here we are in the middle of September and he's out there every day, still swinging the bat and doing things," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "He might end up with 700 at-bats and that's something."
Castro is trying to pass Juan Pierre, who collected 204 hits in 2006 for the Cubs, but he batted leadoff that season. Castro has hit batted first (60 games), second (42 games), third (41 games), sixth (one), and seventh (one). Yet he keeps on hitting.
"Exactly," he said.
Being back in Cincinnati always brings back good memories. Castro made his Major League debut at Great American Ball Park on May 7, 2010, hitting a three-run homer in his first at-bat.
"It feels like the first day," he said on Wednesday.
When he does reach 200, give his mother credit. She spent most of the season in Chicago, cooking for her 21-year-old son. She has since returned to the Dominican Republic. He has found a restaurant but his mother need not worry.
"It's not the same," Castro said. "My mommy's cooking is different."
Which means better.
Soriano remembers lengthy blast in Cincy
CINCINNATI -- On May 9, 2006, Alfonso Soriano belted a 492-foot homer off the Reds' Brian Shackelford in the ninth inning of a 7-1 Nationals win. The ball sailed to straightaway center and Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips, who was the starting second baseman in that game, said this week that Soriano was shortchanged. Phillips felt the ball traveled further than Juan Francisco's did on Monday, which registered at 502 feet.
What did Soriano think?
"That was the longest one I've ever hit," the Cubs left fielder said of his blast in '06, which would not have traveled as far now because of the addition of the riverboat structure in center.
Of course, Soriano also felt he hit one a long, long way in San Francisco on Aug. 29 this year when the ball nearly reached the concourse behind the left field seats at AT&T Park.
"I was feeling strong," he said, laughing.
Javier Baez, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in the First-Year Player Draft, is among the players expected to participate in Instructional League play, which gets underway Thursday in Mesa, Ariz.
They start games Sept. 23 in the Phoenix area, with the Cubs playing at their Fitch Park complex. Besides Baez, Shawon Dunston Jr., son of the former Cubs shortstop and the team's 11th-round pick, will participate.
Twelve of the Cubs' first 16 Draft picks are expected to get a head start on their pro careers, including second-round pick Dan Vogelbach, a first baseman from Bishop Verot (Fla.) High School. Also expected to play are infielder/outfielder Zeke DeVoss from Miami; right-handed pitcher Tony Zych of Louisville; right-handed pitcher Tayler Scott of Notre Dame (Ariz.) High School; catcher Neftali Rosario of Puerto Rico Academy High School; and outfielder Garrett Schlecht of Waterloo (Ill.) High School.
The Cubs skipped early batting practice in the first three games of this series so they can catch up on their rest after rough travel from New York.
"[Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo] is a good judge," Cubs manager Mike Quade said.
When Tony Campana was first called up to the Cubs, the team was in Cincinnati and he had to leave quite a few tickets for friends and family from nearby Springboro, Ohio, his hometown. This series is the Cubs' third trip to the Queen City since then and Campana only had to leave 10 tickets.
"It's not a shock anymore," Campana said.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.