TORONTO — Eric Thames is the first Toronto Blue Jays prospect to get a big-league opportunity thanks to star slugger Jose Bautista’s looming shift to third base and by the sound of it he may not be the last.
After spending the day huddled with manager John Farrell, GM Alex Anthopoulos revealed the team’s plans for Bautista on Thursday night, a move made with the lack of production from the uninspiring stopgaps at the hot corner becoming untenable, and the timetable for top prospect Brett Lawrie’s return from a broken left hand pushed back, perhaps until August.
Bautista will start taking ground balls at the hot corner Friday when the Blue Jays try to break out of a miserable 4-9 skid and a dismal offensive stretch when they open a three-game interleague series at St. Louis. Anthopoulos expects it will take a few days until Bautista’s ready to move in from right field.
Once Bautista’s ready to go, Thames — recalled from triple-A Las Vegas on Thursday, with utilityman Mike McCoy heading down – will get the majority of the playing time created by the shuffle, filling in at left field, right field and DH.
Also on the Blue Jays’ radar are Travis Snider — whose MRI results came back clear Thursday, meaning he should soon be ready to resume activity following a concussion — fellow outfielder Adam Loewen, and first baseman David Cooper.
“You start adding it all up, it made too much sense,” Anthopoulos said of the decision to shift Bautista on a conference call. “When you combine the fact that Snider is going to be back soon, and from what it looks like right now was starting to swing the bat well, and we all know the importance he has to us in this organization, Thames was very hot swinging the bat well, Loewen is starting to swing the bat well, Cooper has really continued to have a great year down there, you factor all those things and that we haven’t gotten production at third base, and that it looks like Brett is going to take a little bit more time than we had hoped, I think this makes a whole lot more sense.
“It opens up playing time for some of our younger kids going forward, and obviously helps us in the short-term get some other left-handed bats in the lineup.”
Bautista’s move will hold until Lawrie, who was on the verge of being called up until a pitch broke his hand, is ready to go. Initial projections had him returning to action in the next couple of weeks, but Anthopoulos said the break has yet to heal and he can’t grip a bat without pain.
Lawrie will need some time to work back into game shape beforehand, so his return is not imminent.
That left the Blue Jays to either continue running out some combination of Jayson Nix, John McDonald, McCoy and Edwin Encarnacion for a prolonged period, or go back to their initial plan from the spring, which was to play Bautista at third base.
Anthopoulos said he scoured the market for external options and found, “a lot of bad trades out there that I can make. I choose not to make them.”
Snider, meanwhile, may be the next hitter the Blue Jays promote.
The mechanical changes to his swing were starting to show until he was sidelined after Snider was hit by a pitch on the bill of the helmet last Friday.
“He was getting close,” said Anthopoulos. “He just started to come on and do it game by game over and over again. He probably would have needed longer to repeat what he was doing … but it finally seemed like they unlocked some things there.”
Snider must pass through Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol before he returns to action.
In 53 games with Las Vegas, Thames hit .352 with 25 doubles, four triples, seven homers and 45 RBIs. He also played in 13 games with the Blue Jays, batting .286 with two doubles, a triple and four RBIs in 13 games.
The Blue Jays also confirmed the signing of Joe Musgrove, the 46th overall pick in the 2011 draft, and fellow right-hander Kramer Champlin, a 33rd round selection.