Is it just me, or am I taking too long to continue this series? Ah well, life has been eventful lately, but I can't let the lapse go on too long.
Third base is another position at which the Jays have struggled for some time. The team has not produced, from its own system, a credible major league 3B since Ed Sprague, and he was a catcher for a while.
Now, although the upper levels are still quite thin, there are some lower-level 3B which are worth talking about.
1. Kevin Ahrens - 20, 6'1", 205, 2007 1st round
Ahrens was frequently compared to Chipper Jones out of high school, and not just because he's a switch hitter. He was reported to have an equally good approach from either side of the plate with a simple smooth swing and developing power. He's said to have soft hands as a fielder and Baseball America rated his 3B arm the best in his league. On the other side, he's a below average runner. However, Aherns has been only ordinary as a pro. He was not streaky or inconsistent this year - he was consistently ordinary. He finished Lansing with a sub-.700 OPS which would seem to indicate he's likely to be back there next season. Someone needs to figure out why a guy who was reported to have such skill hasn't tapped it.
ETA: Late 2012
2. Robert Sobolewski - 22, 6'1" 200, 2008, Round 4
Drafted as a true sophomore out of Miami, Sobo is a highly regarded but quite raw talent. With enough power potential to hit cleanup on a team with Yonder Alonso, he was considered a possible first round talent in the 2008 draft but dropped due to the assumption that he couldn't be signed given that some scouts were saying he could reach the upper half of the first round next year. Many think the Jays got a real steal by picking him and getting him signed this year. That said, Sobo's team played deep into the College World Series and he was running on fumes in his first professional at bats. He was unimpressive at the plate as a pro but under the circumstances he should get a mulligan on that.
Defensively, he has a strong arm but tends to drop to a 3/4 angle which leads to throwing errors but this is considered correctable. He has good footwork around the plate and, while still a work in progress, 3B is considered his most projectable position.
3. Balbino Fuenmayor - 19, 6'3" 195, Non-Drafted Free Agent
Signed out of Venezuela in August of 2006 at the tender age of 16, Balbino took some time to adjust to pro ball. But his just completed GCL season reaffirmed his status as a prospect and, one could easily argue he belongs at the top of this list. After an abbreviated and flacid June, Fuenmayor steadily improved as the season wore on. He finished the season hitting .307 (.819) which was a stunning improvement on his .174 (.485) totals in 2007. Late in the season, JP said in rather direct terms that Fuenmayor would be moving across the diamond to 1B next season, but I can't find any indication that he is sub-standard defensively. I include him here because that's been where he's played and JP has been known to toss out something like that and nothing ever come of it.
One possible explanation is overcrowding the system. The Jays needed Aherns to earn his promotion to Dunedin so that Sobo could go to Lansing and Balbino to Auburn. That not happening creates a situation where two top prospects would be sharing a position. Hopefully then, Balbino is simply moving over until the older players advance (i.e. one of Ahrens and Sobo moves to Dunedin) and then he will move back to the hot corner. The thing about this list so far is this: any of these three could turn on the jets and advance quickly through the system as Snider and Arencibia did in 2008. You could see all three have issues next year, of course, but you could also see any of of these guys hot through three levels in a season. I tend to think that Balbino will have such a year, whether it's 2009, or some later year.
ETA: 2012 if he has a monster year at some point, 2014 if he takes it one step at a time.
4. Anthony Hatch - 25, 6'4" 200, 2005, 13th round
Hatch is a versatile guy capable of playing anywhere in the infield (and I suspect a corner OF if pressed). He might have a future as a utility guy, though he has somewhat more power than the stereotypical supersub, or maybe at 2B in the right situation. But he's a perfectly capable 3B too. Offensively, he's been less projectable.
In his first pro season, playing rookie ball as a 21 year old, he was impressive. In 2006 at Lansing, he had his best year posting a .954 OPS in 239 AB with a low strikeout total. Those numbers should have put him right in the middle of conversations about Jays prospects but for the most part he remained under the radar. In 2007 he was promoted to Dunedin and stumbled, posting an unimpressive .723 OPS. He was nevertheless assigned to AA to begin 2008 and, predictably, struggled hitting .235 in 74 games before stepping back to High A ball.
There, however, he regained his stroke. In 48 games in the FSL he posted an OPS of .977 and recovered his excellent BB/K ratio. Hatch is probably back on the radar as a prospect if the Jays take their time and understand he's not so good with aggressive promotion. He should start 2009 in AA and the team might be wise, if he preforms well, to give him a few weeks in AAA at the end of the season to give him a head start on adjusting to the next level.
ETA: Mid-late 2011
5. Andrew Pinkney - 27, 6'1" 205, 2004, 34th round (Red Sox)
I could go into detail about this guy, but I'd be wasting both our times. He's a late round system filler guy who's on his third (at least) organization and he was only middling while playing in AA at 26. He'll never play in the majors.
Next up - Catchers.