I’m writing this (admittedly short) article that will discuss what I think is the only reason to move Brett Lawrie to second base for 2014. For the purposes of rhetoric, I’m working within a very hypothetical world in which the Blue Jays won’t look outside of their organization for help at 3B.
Brett Lawrie is an electric player. With the potential to be an All-Star at third base, he made a lot of noise breaking into the league but has been looking for consistency both at the plate and in the ability to stay healthy for a full season. Lawrie’s defense at 3B has been outstanding, showing range, reaction time and arm strength to already be considered one of the elite defenders in the league.
Brett wasn’t always a third baseman. He has only played that position since the Blue Jays acquired him in the 2010/2011 off-season, before which he was a second baseman in the Brewers system. Since the beginning of this year, Lawrie has played some minor league games at second and reports have been very good overall. With more professional baseball experience and a better understanding of the game, he is bringing more than just his natural atheleticism to the position in 2013 than he did in 2009 and 2010.
So if the Blue Jays move Lawrie to second base to actually get some production out of that position at the major league level, who would they get to play third? Right now, there are only two reasons to play Lawrie at 2B this season – Jose Bautista (as mentioned by The Blue Jay Hunter) or Edwin Encarnacion. Edwin looked good at third base when the Jays were playing in National League ballparks, but I don’t think many people consider him a long-term solution.
The next person (not on the major league roster) in the organization’s depth chart at the hot corner is Andy LaRoche in Buffalo. LaRoche is a nice piece in Buffalo but he’s a 4-A player and an emergency sub at best. Long term, we’d have to look to the next level down – the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
The one player on the Fisher Cats that I could see being a major league puzzle piece is 22-year-old Andy Burns, and it’s still early to even say that. Burns is in his first couple of weeks of exposure to Double-A and has struggled a bit but has seemed to be able to make an adjustment going into the Eastern League’s All-Star break.
Burns was tearing up A-Advanced Dunedin with a .327/.383/.524 triple slash line, hitting 15 doubles, 5 triples and 8 home runs (with 21 stolen bases) in 282 plate appearances. In the small, 17-game sample size in New Hampshire, he is hitting .206/.289/.382 but has been hot this week, turning around a poor start to his promotion by hitting .368/.455/.684 in the last week with his two home runs coming in that time period.
We know that Burns has made some adjustments in his batting mechanics in the last week or so, thanks to this article from MiLB.com. The fact is that I saw him playing in New Hampshire just before he had a two-home run game (both were hit in the same inning) and had noticed that he had a high leg kick, a la Jose Bautista, and that his timing looked like it was off. Apparently, the leg kick has been toned down and Burns has seen instant results.
Burns has outstanding athletic ability (he’s a converted shortstop) to go along with excellent arm strength. I personally saw him make several outstanding plays at third, one on a leaping catch, and the other ranging far to his right and throwing a bullet across the diamond from foul ground to get a runner. The problem is that he makes too many errors on bad throws.
Is Andy Burns the answer at third base if Lawrie were to move to second? Not yet. He definitely needs more seasoning in Double-A. I’d also give him an invitation to ML spring training next year (as a non-roster player) and give him the opportunity to see the differences in major league pitching. He definitely has the athleticism to play the position but needs more experience both at the plate and in the field.