A ton of Jays fans clamoring for Eric Thames to get the call got their wish yesterday as the Jays purchased his contract, designated Robert Ray for assignment in order to make room for Thames on the 40-man roster, and placed Adam Lind on the Disabled List (DL). Thames follows David Cooper, who was returned to AAA the day before, as the second to get his shot at proving himself in MLB.
Cooper, 24, was sent back when Jayson Nix was activated from the DL and only managed 4 hits (.121) in 33 ABs, including 2 extra base hits, a double and a HR. He did managed 5 BB and 5 SO, showing that he is no easy out and is likely to improve on his showing in the future. Still, his .244 OBP and .242 SLG leave a lot to be desired and it was obvious that Cooper needed to reload on his confidence and go over his performances in in order to better himself for his next shot.
The question all of us are waiting to have answered now is: will Eric Thames fare any better than David Cooper?
In my humble opinion, yes.
Not only does Eric Thames have the perfect mentality at the plate to learn a ton from Jays hitting coach Dwayne Murphy due to his “see pitch I like and take a big swing” approach, but he has also been able to cut down a ton on his strike outs in 2011 despite being tested at a higher level than in 2010. While in New Hampshire in 2010 (AA), Thames struck out 121 times for a 24.4% strike out rate. This year, in Las Vegas (AAA), Thames has struck out only 30 times in 146 ABs for a 20.5% strike out rate. Simultaneously, his batting average has gone from .288 to .342, and his walk rate is about 1% higher. Add those up, and Thames enjoys a nice jump in OBP, from an above-average .370 to well above-average .419.
Although all of that is very encouraging and points to a much improved Thames, is there anything else that we can point to as major improvements in his game? Yes, there is:
- He hit 25 doubles in 496 ABs last season. This season, he already has 17 in only 146 ABs. At that pace and with 496 ABs, Thames would end the season with 57 doubles in hand. Yikes!
- He is crushing RHP to the tune of .374/.452/.607 this season with an 18% extra base hit rate!!! Why is this important? Well, since the majority of pitchers in MLB are RH, it makes the chances of Thames being successful in MLB much greater. That and he becomes much more useful off-the-bench in late innings since opposing teams only have so many southpaws ready to go in the pen. Just for comparisons sake, Cooper was hitting .348/.405/.545 against RHP before getting the call, so it doesn’t prove or guarantee anything. It just points to a likeliness of “not looking foolish” at the plate.
- He has done well enough vs LHP to not be “useless” against them. He has a .256/.326/.615 line against lefties and can therefore be used aganst them is needed.
Don’t ask me why, but I have a strong feeling that Thames will have better success in The Show right off-the-bat than David Cooper had. He seems to have something to prove, holds a lot more power in his bat overall, and likes to perform under pressure.
I also have a feeling that when everyone returns healthy and Adam Lind is taken off the DL, Eric Thames will stick around and Juan Rivera will be gone. That only holds water if Thames does well, but that’s exactly what I expect will happen. After all, if he comes up and does better overall than Juan Rivera, how can they justify sending him back to AAA?
So, what’s next for the Jays?
The most obvious next step for the Jays is the promotion of Brett Lawrie to man 3B for the remainder of the 2011 season. When that happens, there will be a ton of changes taking place, both with who is on the 25-man roster and where hitters are placed in the lineup. My best guess at the lineup that may be used once Thames and Lawrie are included in it would be as follows:
- Escobar – Lawrie – Bautista – Lind – Encarnacion – Hill – Arencibia – Davis – Thames
Another option would be to have Davis move up to lead off once again, to move Escobar down to the 2-hole (or vice-versa) and to have Lawrie hit lower in the lineup. However, no matter how you slice and dice it, that lineup is a much better lineup than what the Jays have operated with so far in 2011. It leaves them with Corey Patterson, Jose Molina, John McDonald, and Jayson Nix on the bench, and takes Juan Rivera out of the pitcure. The one major issue left? What to do with Travis Snider if and when he heats up again in AAA? It’s a nice problem to have, particularly if Thames does well in the majors.
It will be very interesting to see how Alex Anthopoulos navigates that scenario. Will he be able to work out a deal or two? Will the Jays simply continue to tolerate sub-par performances from veterans? Or, will they decide to cut a piece or two loose?
Interesting times are ahead, but most interesting of all at this point is how much playing time Eric Thames will get, where he’ll hit in the lineup, and how he’ll perform during his first shot with the Jays!
Good luck to him, and hopefully we get one heck of a show as he brings his bat and grit to Toronto!
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