Third base earns the consistency prize for 2012, being manned by the same player for sixty-three of seventy-six games, or 83% of the regular season. That bests Jorge Flores who got into ‘only’ fifty-four games at short.
But, before we discuss the stalwart at third, and he is worthy of a discussion as is an interesting prospect, let’s take a quick glance at who protected the hot corner for the other thirteen games of the season. Below are the numbers according to Baseball Reference:
I discussed Derrick Chung over at the second basemen review while Matt Johnson got a mention with the shortstops and will, time permitting, get a bit more of a serious discussion when we discuss the relievers.
So, that leaves us two players to talk about today.
Taken in the 25th round of the 2012 draft, Jason Leblebijian was promoted quite aggressively last season, seeing time at three levels. One of only a hand-full of prospects (Jays first pick D.J. Davis being one of the others) to move as much. With Davis you can see why the Jays took such an aggressive approach, but JL’s was a bit tougher to understand. After a rough start over nine games in Bluefield where his ISO was miniscule .097 despite a mendoza line busting batting average of .194 he was promoted to Vancouver in early July.
His tenure with the C’s got off to a great start, OPS’ing over 12 hundred through his first fourty odd plate appearances. Things normalized after that though, ending with a respectable .737 OPS, which was helped by a high .394 BABIP. Tools wise, nothing really stood out when you watched him. He’s listed at 6’1″ 190 although I would debate that as he did look bigger live. He uses a wide base at the plate and keeps his hand through the zone. In the field, he spent time around the infield, also DH’ing for eleven games. What I’m trying to get at, in a roundabout way, is I’m not really certain why JL found himself in Lansing in late August. Maybe the Jays saw something I didn’t? Possibly his versatility was needed by the Lugnuts? Who knows. He did struggle in his short time in the Midwest League, only slugging .244. I’m not going to draw any conclusions from such a short sample size. Is possible he was starting to wear down, not only from his first pro season, but from all the moves.
Having reached Lansing in 2012, I would be surprised if he didn’t open up 2013 with the Lugnuts. If he struggles, we may very well see him back at the Nat come June.
Speaking of struggling in Lansing. The Canadians resident third basemen, Kellen Sweeney, did just that, showing little ability to make contact, or generate any power once he did. After his fourty three game audition it was decided that things weren’t going to improve and Sweeney was assigned to Vancouver when the short season opened. His numbers improved out west, although probably not to the extent that he, or the Jays brass, would have liked.
On the positive side, he did finally manage to find some extra base pop with fifteen doubles and five home runs. And his patience didn’t leave him as his 13.9% Lansing walk rate only dipped to 12.2%. A high rate for a younger player. For reference, that put him tenth amongst qualified players in the Northwest League. As much as I want to laud him for the patient approach I feel it is also part of his problem.
His batting averages for balls in play (BABIP) was low in both leagues at .225 in the Midwest and .259 for the Northwest. This tells us one of two things. Either he was extremely unlucky, or when making contact, he sometimes struggles to drive the ball. Having seen him enough this past season, I’m going to go for the latter. His patient approach not only means he is watching some good pitches earlier in the count but also forces him to take swings at pitches he normally wouldn’t with two strikes. From what I saw, he often allowed inside pitches to get in on him a bit much or put weak swings on balls away from him. Usually the result was a pop up to both sides of the infield. Marc Hulet, a long time scout saw the Northwest League final and said something similar.
As Hulet says, Kellen is a good defensive third basemen and has the glove/footwork to stick there. However, if he doesn’t start to hit, then he’ll stall on the organizational ladder. Sweeney was part of the post-season instructional league, where, I’m sure, the Jays worked on his approach. A repeat start in Lansing is on the cards where Kellen will be under pressure. If he fails again, he’ll be moved from prospect to organizational filler quicker than he can say I love Vancouver sushi.