Toronto Blue Jays Looking to Eric Thames for Offensive Boost

Rory BarrsContributor IIJune 28, 2011

Eric Thames is looking to stick with the Blue Jays for good this time.
Eric Thames is looking to stick with the Blue Jays for good this time.Abelimages/Getty Images

Eric Thames has seen all he desires to of Triple-A Las Vegas.

Toronto recalled its 24-year-old outfielder on June 24 for the second time this season, hoping he could provide a spark to ignite the Blue Jays’ listless offense.

Thames last played for the Jays on June 1, being demoted to AAA after hitting .243 with no homers in 37 May at-bats.

The former Pepperdine slugger, with a chiseled frame (especially by baseball standards), didn’t waste any time re-acclimating himself to the Pacific Coat League, batting .462 with 12 RBI in a 10-game stretch before Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos determined a second promotion was in order.

Anthopoulos liked what he was seeing from Thames, and was presumably horrified by the dossier of statistical inefficiencies being assembled by his very questionable major-league lineup.

Jose Bautista has been a saint for Toronto, providing an inordinate percentage of the Blue Jays’ punch at the plate, and playing reliably solid defense in right field.

It is the left-center-third triumvirate that has Jays fans covering their eyes nightly, three positions that have been about as ineffective offensively as one can imagine over the last month.

Rajai Davis, who stole 50 bases last season with Oakland, is in a June funk so rotten that home fans may begin to regret shipping Vernon Wells to Anaheim, despite his hefty and paralyzing contract. Okay, maybe not that bad.

Davis has a .149/.158/.284 June slash line, with three steals, one walk and a disturbing 21 whiffs.

Corey Patterson is having a month to forget of his own; his .198/.242/.256 line is only a marginal improvement over Davis’.

Earlier this month, uber-prospect Brett Lawrie appeared to be a phone call away from his big-league debut, when an arrant pitch broke a bone in his left hand, an injury that has the kid likely out until August.

Toronto has announced that Bautista will now shift to third, possibly starting with tonight’s game, the opener of a three-game interleague series against the Pirates.

With Lawrie no longer a short-term option, the Jays simply couldn’t wait any longer with Jayson Nix’s performance (.148/.203/.259 in June) discrediting third basemen everywhere.

Cue the return of Thames and Bautista’s shift to the not-so-hot corner.

Versatility on defense will be key for Thames, who the Jays plan to use at both corner outfield spots, as well as the designated hitter role, depending on the day’s lineup mix.

Offensively, Toronto is banking on Thames utilizing the power-speed combo that made him so successful at the lower levels. He has poked three doubles in two games since his call up, and recorded 36 extra-base hits in 53 games with Las Vegas this season.

What will ultimately determine Thames’ fate—especially as a top-of-the-order bat—is whether or not he can improve his plate discipline and cut down on his strikeout total. In 51 at-bats with the Blue Jays, he has been punched out 19 times, and earned only four free passes.

If he can produce at a respectable level, there should be no shortage of playing time available; Patterson, Davis and Juan Rivera aren’t exactly earning their playing time right now.

Ideally, by inserting Thames into what has lately been an anemic offense and repositioning Bautista to third, Toronto can produce at a more functional level. The team’s .224 batting average in June (worst in baseball) must improve in order to compete on a nightly basis.

His reputation is that of a hard-working ballplayer with a great attitude. Now, along with several of its slumbering batters, Toronto just needs Thames to hit.