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Where the Jays Stand – Third Base

Posted By Ben Fisher On Oct 31 2011 @ 1:02 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | No Comments

The Major League Baseball season is officially over (congrats to the Cards and the retiring-on-top Tony LaRussa), so I don’t have to feel as awkward about addressing off-season positional needs for the Jays while baseball’s top prize is being contested. With that, we take a look at the hot corner (nerdy baseball aside: although it seems like I skipped over shortstop, I was actually following the proper scoring format in which second base is ‘4’, third is ‘5’ and short is ‘6’), where the Jays hope to have found a long-term solution with the emergence of Brett Lawrie.

The 2011 Guy(s)

Starter: Brett Lawrie

Back-Ups: Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Teahen, Jose Bautista, Jayson Nix

Waiting in the Wings: Nobody

How Did The Jays Fare?

You couldn’t have asked for much more from the dawn of the Brett Lawrie era. He led all rookies in OBP (.373), slugging (.580) and OPS (.953) and played the game with an infectious enthusiasm that brought a mid-season jolt into the Jays’ clubhouse. When his average dipped below .300 on September 18, it marked the first time under the plateau as a major leaguer (he finished the season at .293). His power, flare for the dramatics and Canadian citizenship quickly made him a fan favourite, but it was his short, quick swing, speed and knack for finding the gap that helped assert him as a versatile offensive threat that could be a middle-of-the-order bat for the Jays for years to come. Some will bemoan the fact that Lawrie got in just enough games (43) to have 2011 qualify as his rookie season but not enough to make a significant mark on the ROY race, but that hardly seems any more than trivial in what was otherwise a stellar debut.

While Edwin Encarnacion served as the starter at third for much of the season, it was really a third-baseman-by-committee situation before Lawrie arrived on the scene. In addition to Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Mark Teahen, Jayson Nix, Mike McCoy and Chris Woodward all spent time at third at one time or another. We’ll discuss Encarnacion more in the DH portion, but he was interestingly at his worst at the hot corner, hitting .213 with a .287 OBP in a year that was otherwise quite productive offensively.

Where Are They Headed?

Lawrie is a prime candidate for a 2012 sophomore slump as a 21-year old who will only be facing increased pressure and expectations with opposing pitchers also getting a better handle on how to cope with the Langley, BC native. But that isn’t the main area of concern. Instead, there still remains some question as to whether he can withstand the grind of a 162-game schedule. Lawrie’s high-energy style seemed to be burning out after just two months at the major league level, as he hit just .246 in September before a fractured finger ended his season prematurely.

The questions surrounding Lawrie’s 162-game viability highlight the team’s need for a reliable back-up with some pop to offer. Encarnacion will certainly see time at third base in 2012, with just how much depending upon the status of the DH position and his own reluctance to play third (some reports have Alex Anthopoulos promising to keep the 29-year old away from third as much as he can). Among the rest of the 2011 bunch, Woodward is already out the door, Nix could soon follow, and McCoy (middle infield) and Bautista (RF) will be back but not at 3B.Teahen, meanwhile, will likely be back by virtue of being nearly immovable (he’s owed $5.5 million in 2012, the final year of his contract). If he can hit closer to his career numbers (.264 average, .327 OBP) and less like his 2011 stat line (.200 average, .273 OBP), he might be a viable back-up candidate.

* As an aside, I’m doing the Twitter thing now and, like I would tell people back in my cult-leading days, I would love to have some followers. Follow me (@RealBenFisher) and I’ll be sure to give you one right back!

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