Friday, March 11, 2011

Blue Jays Urged to Open with Brett Lawrie at 3B

After hitting a torrid .409 with .714 slugging in his first 21 at-bats, 20-year-old Blue Jays prospect Brett Lawrie went 2-3 with a homer and walk to see his average plunge to a mere .381 in a 7-4 victory over the Twins.

Despite the -- er -- slump, fan pressure mounts for the young third baseman to make the team out of spring training as starting third baseman, moving slugger Jose Bautista to right field and newly acquired, marginal Angels veteran Juan Rivera to the bench.

Former major leaguer Alan Ashby, broadcaster for the Blue Jays, told Radio 590 talk show host Bob McCown in a telephone interview from spring camp in Duneeden, Fla., that it "makes sense" for Lawrie to make the team immediately, even though it would accelerate his arbitration clock.

The Blue Jays are widely thought to be rebuiders rather than playoff contenders for 2011, but Ashby warned that the team has the capability of surprising, and may emerge as a candidate for the post season. Suppose the team loses Lawrie's bat for two months after sending him back to the minors, then finally brings him up only to miss the post season by a game or two?

"Do you want to sit there and say, what if?" Ashby asks.

The situation is reminiscent of the 2006 Phillies, who kept slap-hitting Placido Polanco as the starting second baseman while holding back gamebreaking rookie Chase Utley as well into May, then watched the season go down the drain by missing the playoffs by one game.

"When you've got a talented young player...you can get fooled, and we've been fooled before, but this looks like the real thing," Ashby said.

Lawrie (pronounced LOW-ry) , acquired from the Brewers in the deal for starting pitcher Shawn Marcum, has major league ready defensive skills, can play third, second or the outfield and projects as a power hitter with an excellent eye at the plate.

Ashby agreed with McCown that Lawrie taking over third base not only improves defense on the infield, but in the outfield, as well, where Bautista is regarded to be virtually as capable as any outfielder in the major leagues. Moreover, Lawrie's making the team should leave him more developed for a playoff push in 2012, McCown added.

A former catcher with the Astros, Ashby also offered a vaguely positive but uncertain outlook for rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia, a leading candidate to open the season as starting backstop but whose bat has yet to come to life in 32 at-bats last September, nor so far this spring, though he hit 32 homers last year at Triple A.

A key to his success will depend on his ability to call major league games, Ashby indicated.

"I have not heard one single (note of) trepidation from any pitcher about J.P, so hopefully he is okay on that count," Ashby said.

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