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Jays Listed – Top 10 Third Basemen

Third base has been a pretty good position for the Blue Jays throughout the years. Toronto has boasted some powerful bats and a few solid gloves at the hot corner. Of course they also had a few bats with holes and error-prone gloves at third as well.

Through their 36 seasons Toronto has seen a number of different faces come and go at third. There have been 16 different men start at third base on opening day throughout the years and 13 different players have led Toronto in starts at third in a single season. Toronto has also had a number of honors bestowed upon third base including a Rookie of the Year Award, a Gold Glove and six All-Star game selections.

Do those accolades make picking the Top 10 third basemen in Blue Jays history easier or harder? The hardest part in picking this list may be the small samples of a few great players and the one or two standout season that a number of list potentials have had. Do two great seasons rate higher than five or six average ones? Let’s find out.

 

10. Eric Hinske – 2002-2006

Hinske’s career in Toronto got off to such a promising start. The Blue Jays acquired Hinske from the Oakland Athletic’s along with Justin Miller in exchange for Billy Koch on December 7, 2001. Less than a year later Hinske was the 2002 Rookie of the Year.

During his rookie season Hinske hit .279 with a .365 OBP and a .845 OPS. All of those numbers would end up being career highs with the Jays. Hinske also showed some power as a rookie, ripping 24 home runs and 84 RBI. He also posted a 3.6 WAR that season, by far the best of his career. Hinske’s 2002 season earned him a five-year contract extension that he was never able to live up to.

The following season Hinske’s numbers started to slide. His average dropped to .243 and his OBP to .329. His home run total was cut in half to 12 and he also saw his RBI total reduce to 63. Hinke’s WAR in his second season was also basically cut in half to 1.7.

Hinke’s stats went back up slightly in 2004, but that was to be expected considering he appeared in 29 more games. The increases weren’t substantial though as he hit only .246 with a .312 OBP and a lousy .688 OPS.

As Hinske’s bat continued to decline his substandard defense became more apparent. In 2003 he made 22 errors at third base. He showed improvement in 2004, but in 2005 was moved to first base and posted a defensive WAR of -0.9.

Late in the 2006 season Hinske was traded to the Red Sox for a player to be named later and cash. Hinske wasn’t a horrible third basemen during his time with the Jays, but he was never able to live up to the expectations he set in his rookie season.

 

9. Edwin Encarnacion – 2009 – present

Encarnacion may not be a third basemen anymore, but he’s got a lot more games at third than any other position with the Jays right now, so under the rules that’s where he goes in the lists. At a different position in a few more years Encarnacion could be much higher than ninth.

Encarnacion came to Toronto from Cincinnati in 2009 along with Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart in exchange for Scott Rolen. In 42 games the rest of the way in 2009 Encarnacion hit .240 with a .306 OBP and a .748 OPS. He also hit eight home runs and drove in 23 runs. In the field Edwin made seven errors at third with a .937 fielding percentage a trend that would eventually earn him the nickname E5.

In his first full season with Toronto in 2010 Encarnacion appeared in 96 games, which included 95 starts at third. He showed more power with the bat with 21 home runs, but his average remained low at .244 and his OPS came in at .787. He also continued to have trouble defensively at third with 18 errors, a .932 fielding percentage and a defensive WAR of -0.1. At the end of the 2010 season Encarnacion was claimed off waivers by the Oakland Athletics, but after failing to sign a contract with the A’s was granted free agency. The Blue Jays signed him and brought him back to Toronto two weeks later.

The 2011 season began very poorly for Edwin. He was scuffling at the plate and was a mess in the field which forced the Jays to move him from third base and into a DH/1B role. On the season Edwin had eight errors and a .892 fielding percentage in only 36 games at third. He also posted a -1.5 defensive WAR. Getting away from third base everyday turned out to be great for Edwin. In the second half he was one of Toronto’s best hitters, hitting .291 with 11 home runs and 36 RBI after the All-Star break.

He continued to hit well entering 2012 and through the first two months leads the Jays in home runs (13) and RBI (34) while batting .270 with a .919 OPS. Edwin may not be a great third basemen, but he’s more than proven his worth at DH and first.

 

8. Roy Howell – 1977-1980

Howell played more games at third base than any other player during the first four seasons of Blue Jays baseball. He was drafted by the Rangers fourth overall in the first round of the 1972 draft and made his way to Toronto via a trade for Steve Hargan and Jim Mason in May, 1977.

In 96 games with Toronto in 1997 Howell hit .316 with a .386 OBP and a .837 OPS. He hit 10 home runs and had 44 RBI for a pretty bad Toronto team. Howell also set a record in the inaugural season that still stands. On September 10, 1977 against the Yankees Howell went 5-6 with two home runs and a team-record nine RBI. The Jays defeated the first place Yankees 19-3 that day.

In 1978 Howell was the Jays lone All-Star. Someone had to be after all. That season he hit .270 with a .325 OBP and a .701 OPS. He hit 10 home runs and drove in 61. The following season he set career-best marks in home runs with 15 and RBI with 72 but saw his average drop to .247 and his OBP to .310.

Howell left the Jays following the 1980 via free agency. He signed on with Milwaukee but played sparingly for the next four seasons.

 

7. Brett Lawrie – 2011-present

It’s impossible to fairly grade Lawrie who hasn’t even played a full season in the Majors yet.

The Langley, BC native was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round of the 2008 draft. The Jays were able to pry Lawrie away from the Brewers in December, 2010 in exchange for Shaun Marcum.

After tearing up the minor leagues Lawrie made his Major League debut last season on August 5, 2011. His debut likely would have come sooner but was delayed after Lawrie hurt his wrist in June. Lawrie’s bat transitioned pretty seamlessly to the Majors. In 43 games with the big club he hit .293 with a .373 OBP and a lofty .953 OPS. He also cracked nine home runs, drove in 25 runs and stole seven bases.

After such a stout debut a lot was expected out of Lawrie in 2012. He got off to a somewhat slow start but eventually got it going at the plate and currently owns a .281 average, a .325 OBP and a .708 OPS. Larwrie’s extreme passion and fire for the game has helped him quickly grow a following with the fans and popularity with his teammates, but it’s also hurt him at times this season.

Jut a few examples include a poorly timed attempt at stealing home and a blow up at umpire Bill Miller that earned him a four-game suspension. At 22 years of age Lawrie will have plenty of time to figure out way to balance his fire for the game and keep it in check when he needs to.

If Lawrie keeps up his current pace at the plate and in the field he’ll be much higher on this list in a few years.

 

6. Ed Sprague – 1991-1998

Sprague was the Blue Jays first round pick in the 1988 draft. He debuted with Toronto in 1991 and in his first two years in the big leagues he appeared in only 83 games as a bench player, which included 17 games behind the plate as catcher. However, he was a very important bench player in the 1992 World Series. In Game 2 he hit a game-winning two-run home run off Jeff Reardon in the ninth inning. Without that home run the Jays likely would have lost the game and been down 0-2 in the series to Atlanta.

Following Kelly Gruber’s departure after the 1992 season Sprague was named the starting third basemen in 1993. His bat didn’t suddenly come alive though. Hitting far down in the order in a very powerful lineup Sprague batted .260 with a .310 OBP ad a .696 OPS. He hit 12 home runs and drove in 73 runs.

Sprague didn’t deviate from his 1993 pace very much until the 1996 season. He still only batted .247 that season but his power stroke erupted for 36 home runs and 101 RBI. He posted a 2.8 WAR that season, the best of his career.

The 1996 season proved to be an anomaly rather than a new norm for Sprague. The following season his batting average fell to .228 and his power diminished considerably with only 14 home runs. His average remained in the low 220-230 range and in July, 1998 Toronto traded Sprague to Oakland for minor leaguer Scott Rivette. After the ’96 season Sprague would never hit 30 homers again and peaked at 22 with Pittsburgh in 1999.

For some reason throughout his career Sprague was a magnet for the ball, leading the league in bean balls twice. He was hit at least 10 times in five different seasons while with the Jays and is third in team history with 68.

 

5. Tony Batista – 1999-2001

Batista was originally acquired by the Blue Jays to play shortstop. In June of 1999 Toronto shortstop Alex Gonzalez was lost for the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. To fill the void Gord Ash traded Dan Plesac to the D-Backs for Batista and John Frascatore. Playing solely at short the rest of the ’99 season Batista hit .285 with a .328 OBP and a .893 OPS with 26 home runs and 79 RBI in 98 games. That surprising power display earned Batista the starting job at third base the following season when Gonzalez returned.

With his wonky batting stance, Batista’s power surge continued during the 2000 season. That year he was an All-Star after clubbing a career-high 41 home runs and driving in 114 runs. He also hit .263 with a .307 OBP and a .827 OPS. Despite all the home runs Batista’s WAR that season was only 2.0.

In 2001 Batista’s bat started to lose some of it’s magic. His batting average plunged to .207 and his OBP was a lame .251. With only 13 home runs in 72 games the Blue Jays placed him on waivers in June and the Baltimore Orioles quickly picked him up.

Was Batista’s 41-home run season a fluke? Did his weird stance that seemed to provide him power turn out to be his downfall once pitchers started to figure him out? Maybe. He did top the 30-home plateau twice more in 2002 with Baltimore and in 2004 with Montreal.

 

4. Rance Mulliniks – 1982-1992

Before arriving in Toronto in 1982 Mulliniks had played sparingly in five seasons with the California Angels and the Kansas City Royals. Because of that Toronto was able to get him pretty cheap in a trade with the Royals for Phil Huffman.

In his first season in Toronto Mulliniks appeared in 112 games, at the time a career-high, and hit .244 with a .326 OBP and a .689 OPS. Luckily for the Jays those numbers improved quickly.

Mulliniks spent most of the 80′s in Toronto in a platoon situation at third base along with Garth Iorg and later on, Kelly Gruber. In his later years he also played a lot at DH. During his time platooning with Iorg Mulliniks was the better hitter. He hit .300 or better three times with the Jays, including a career-best .324 in 1984 when he also posted a .383 OBP and a .823 OPS. Mulliniks didn’t have a lot of power, with his season-high for homers topping out at only 12 in 1988.

His stat for his career in Toronto included a .280 average, a .365 OBP and a .790 OPS. He also recorded a 14.5 WAR with his season-best WAR coming in 1985 at 3.0.

 

3. Troy Glaus – 2006-2007

Glaus was acquired by the Blue Jays in December, 2005 in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks that also saw Sergio Santos arrive in Toronto for the first time. Heading the other way in the trade were Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista.

Glaus was acquired to add some power to the Jays lineup and he did just that in his first season, hitting a team-high 38 home runs to go along with 104 RBI. The power was there but he hit only .252 at the plate with a .355 OBP, .868 OPS and a 3.9 WAR. Glaus made his fourth career All-Star game appearance that season and also received a few MVP votes.

Glaus’ 2007 season was disappointing as lingering foot injuries (plantar fasciitis) cut into his playing time and also sapped some of his power. In 115 games that season Glaus hit .262 with a .366 OBP and a .839 OPS. His home run total dropped to 20 and his RBI numbers fell to 62. However, his WAR didn’t suffer too much, remaining consistent at 3.2.

With Toronto’s turf not looking ideal for Glaus’ ailing feet in the future Glaus was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals in the offseason for Scott Rolen.

2. Scott Rolen 2008-2009

Prior to the 2008 season the Blue Jays acquired Rolen from the Cardinals straight-up for Troy Glaus. Rolen’s debut with Toronto was delayed though after he fractured the middle finger on his right hand in spring training. The injury forced him to miss the first three weeks of the regular season and he didn’t appear in his first game for the Jays until April 25.

He would end up appearing in 115 games that season, hitting .262 with a .349 OBP and a .780 OPS. He also clubbed 11 home runs and had 50 RBI while posting a 3.2 WAR. The former Gold Glove winner also played some solid defense at the hot corner with a 1.2 defensive WAR.

In his second season with the Jays Rolen got off to a quick start, hitting .317 with a pair of home runs, with eight RBI and 11 runs scored in the first month of the season. He continued to smoke the ball in the month of June when he hit .384 with a .419 OBP and a .966 OPS. A month later Rolen was gone.

On July 31 Rolen was traded to the Cincinnati for Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart. At the time of the trade Rolen was hitting .320 with a .370 OBP and a .846 OPS. He also hit eight home runs, drove in 43 RBI and posted a solid WAR of 3.7.

 

1. Kelly Gruber – 1984-1992

Gruber was one of Pat Gillick’s many steals acquired through the Rule 5 Draft. Gruber was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the 1980 draft. The Blue Jays stole him away a few years later in the 1983 Rule 5 Draft.

Gruber spent most of his first two seasons in the Jays organization in the minors, only appearing in 20 games with Toronto in 1984-85. After spending time at shortstop and third base over the next two seasons Gruber earned the starting job at third base in 1988. That season, in 158 games, he hit .278 with a .328 OBP, and a .766 OPS. He also hit 16 home runs and drove in 81 runs.

The following season Gruber was named an All-Star for the first time. During the first half of the 1989 season he hit .308 with nine home runs and 43 RBI. Injuries curbed his production in the second half and he finished the year batting .290 with a .328 OBP, .775 OPS, 18 home runs and 73 RBI.

In 1990 Gruber finally tapped into his immense potential with the best season of his career. He made his second trip to the All-Star game and also won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger at third. He hit .274 with a .330 OBP and a .842 OPS. He also hit a career-high 31 home runs, drove in 118 runs and posted a WAR of 4.0. Gruber also finished fourth in MVP voting.

Following his breakout 1990 season injuries began to curtail Gruber’s production. In 1991 he was limited to 113 games and saw his average dip to .252 with a .308 OBP and a .751 OPS. His home runs total dropped to 20 and his RBI total fell to 65. His WAR also plummeted to 1.7.

The 1992 season was even worse for Gruber. Mounting injuries again held him to 120 games and his numbers continued to tumble as he hit .229 with a .275 OBP and a .627 OPS. His WAR was the worst of his career at -0.2.

Following the 1992 Gruber was traded to the Angels for Luis Sojo. His stint in California was short though as the injuries that had plagued him in Toronto finally caught up with him. The most serious was a bone spur on his spine that had been steadily worsening while with Toronto. The threat of paralysis forced Gruber to have surgery which effectively ended his Major League career. He attempted a comeback with the Orioles in 1997, but despite a solid Spring Training retired for good before the season.

Gruber’s peak was a short one due to injuries, but his rise through the Blue Jays ranks in the late 80′s and early 90′s make him the best Blue Jay third basemen on this list.

Agree or disagree with the list? Let us hear about it in the comments section below.

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2 thoughts on “Jays Listed – Top 10 Third Basemen

  1. Dan Winegar Reply

    As much as I like Kelly Gruber and Ed Sprague I feel that Brett Lawrie is going to be at the top of the list by the time his career is over.

    • David Harrison Reply

      I was a huge Gruber fan growing up, but I hope you’re right Dan.

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