MOOSIC, Pa. — Jim Negrych continues to lead all of Triple-A baseball in batting and his .358 average has him tied for the top spot in the entire minor leagues. But the Toronto Blue Jays don’t need help right now at second base. If Negrych wants that first big-league call-up, he needs to add to his defensive resume.
After a brief blip, Negrych is once again hot at the plate while adjusting to life at third base.
He had another multi-hit game Sunday, going 2 for 4 in the Buffalo Bisons’ 4-1 win over the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
After playing the first 45 games of his season at second base, his natural position, Negrych has played the last four at third with Andy LaRoche gone to Toronto to replace the injured Brett Lawrie. There are questions about his arm strength and he has to learn some new footwork, but some good play at third could be huge for the 28-year-old St. Francis product.
Negrych didn’t approach manager Marty Brown about the shift and Brown didn’t discuss it with him either. The lineup card went up for Friday’s doubleheader at Coca-Cola Field and Negrych was at third.
“It’s about being versatile, unless you’re a prospect and they have a spot for you,” Negrych said. “Otherwise you have to be versatile to get on the field. Wherever Marty puts me, I want to go out and do the best that I can. It’s different because I’ve played a lot of second base lately but I’ll get the feel for it again. I need to get it but I certainly don’t feel uncomfortable there.”
Negrych hasn’t played much third since 2011 at Double-A Jacksonville. So the Blue Jays plan extra help this week from roving infield instructor Mike Mordecai, the longtime big-league utility man who won World Series rings with Atlanta (1995) and Florida (2003).
“The footwork is different,” Negrych said. “You can’t be as straight a line as you are at second, you have to be better with drop steps and you have to put yourself in a good position to throw the ball. My arm slot is pretty much high anyway so I won’t drop too much on that. It’s about setting your feet, gaining ground with your feet before you throw to cut down the distance.”
Negrych made a throwing error in the ninth inning Sunday with a low toss to first after tagging the bag at third for a force, but has had no other issues thus far. Lawrie is in a walking boot and his injured ankle is coming along more slowly than anticipated, and Edwin Encarnacion is a poor third baseman. It stands to reason Negrych could have gotten the call ahead of LaRoche if he had more third-base play on his resume.
“When Andy went up, they asked me if I think Jim can start doing it and I said it won’t be a problem,” Brown said. “I thought his footwork has been fine, his positioning solid. He’s got a lot of common sense and that’s what positioning is.”
Negrych was hitting .433 on May 11 and the clamor in Toronto for a call-up was high, particularly when General Manager Alex Anthopoulos addressed his situation during a pregame media briefing in Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays are set at second, however, with Emilio Bonifacio and Macier Izturis.
“It’s the same story for me,” Negrych said. “You come to the park and try to get better at what you’re doing. Let things play themselves out. It’s not in my control. If I play well enough, I’m sure I’ll go at some point. If I don’t, I won’t.
“Getting called up might cross my mind for a brief second and then it’s out. I’m happy playing here, playing with these group of guys. It’s a good group with a good team. It’s fun to play. This is not one of those miserable Triple-A teams so it’s really good.”
Negrych had a 3-for-21 slide shortly after that news conference, but has been hot again lately with a .400 average over his last seven games. Sunday was his team-high 22nd multi-hit game.
“It’s always about getting a good hitting position, letting the barrel fly and hoping they drop,” he said. “I felt pretty good at the plate still when I wasn’t going well.”
Negrych doubled as part of Buffalo’s four-run first, singled in the third and then scalded a line drive to left in the fifth that was caught before flying out in the seventh. The Bisons coasted after the first, an inning highlighted by Mauro Gomez’s IL-leading 16th home run.