The term “fresh start” gets tossed around during spring training to the point that it’s a cliché.
But is there any other way to look at third baseman Brett Lawrie’s first season with the A’s?
After three injury-marred years with Toronto, the British Columbia native is eager to turn the page after coming over as one of four players the A’s acquired from the Blue Jays for Josh Donaldson.
[REWIND: A's ship Donaldson to Toronto]
Lawrie no doubt has big shoes to fill. Donaldson was Oakland’s best all-around player, and news of his trade was met with a mixture of sadness, confusion and frustration from the A’s fan base.
But if Lawrie can shake the bad luck he’s endured health-wise, he has a chance to unlock the potential that made him one of the game’s top prospects when he debuted with the Jays in 2011. In a completely new-look infield, the A’s need Lawrie, 25, to make his presence felt both at the plate and in the field.
STARRING CAST: The A’s rave about Lawrie’s defensive versatility. They reportedly made a run at free agent third baseman Chase Headley early in the offseason, and had Headley signed with Oakland, Lawrie probably would have shifted over to second base. But third base appears to be his full-time spot. Though Donaldson is a Gold Glove-caliber defender who patrolled the Coliseum’s vast foul territory with expertise, the A’s shouldn’t lose much, if anything, with Lawrie at third. He’s known as an excellent defender with a strong arm.
Given the offensive firepower Oakland lost with the trades of Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Derek Norris, Lawrie’s biggest impact would come as a consistent run producer. From 2012-2014, the right-handed hitting Lawrie averaged just 11 home runs and 44 RBI per season. But he also played an average of just 101 games those years because of multiple oblique strains and finger, ankle and rib injuries.
He’s hopeful that getting away from the artificial turf of the Rogers Center in Toronto will go a long way toward keeping him healthier. Consistent time in the lineup would give those hitting numbers a boost.
“It’s just about staying healthy and getting a substantial amount of playing time and going through a full season,” Lawrie said shortly after the November trade. “Some things I can’t control. (Injuries are) a part of the game. That’s how it goes. The beautiful thing is those things are in the past. I’m moving forward.”
CAMP COMPETITION: The A’s had a convenient insurance policy at third last year in Alberto Callaspo. With Callaspo gone via free agency, they’ll have to look elsewhere should Lawrie miss any time. Ben Zobrist, the likely starter at second as the roster stands, could shift over to third though he hasn’t played there much in the majors. A more likely scenario might have starting shortstop Marcus Semien sliding over to third, Zobrist manning short and Eric Sogard playing second when Lawrie isn’t in there.
The A’s hope that’s a situation they don’t have to worry about often. Looking down the road, keep an eye on how some prospects at third base progress through the system. Renato Nunez, a 20-year-old signed out of Venezuela in 2010, hit 29 homers with 96 RBI for Single-A Stockton last season, though his defense still needs refinement. The A’s also will keep tabs on Matt Chapman, 21, last season’s first-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton. Nunez and Chapman are ranked among Oakland’s top four prospects along with first baseman Matt Olson and shortstop Franklin Barreto.
Another name to watch is Rangel Ravelo, acquired from the White Sox as part of the Jeff Samardzija trade. Ravelo spent most of the past two seasons at first base, but Oakland GM Billy Beane said during the winter meetings that Ravelo, 22, could see time at third this season. He’ll go to Triple-A Nashville to start the season after hitting .309 with 11 homers at Double-A last year. The A’s think his power will continue to develop.
PAY ATTENTION TO: Where Lawrie settles in the batting order. His .265 career batting average may not jump off the page, but manager Bob Melvin said Lawrie gives him lots of options. “He can hit at the top,” Melvin said. “He can hit really anywhere in the lineup but maybe the ‘4’ spot.”