Thursday, March 29, 2012

30 Jays in 30 Days - Brett Lawrie's Star Burns Bright

Who: Brett Lawrie, No. 13. Third baseman. Bats right, throws right. 6’0”, 215 LBS. 22 years old.

Provenance: Langley, British Columbia, Canada. Canada, Canada, Canada. Drafted in the first round (16th overall) of the 2008 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. Acquired by the Blue Jays on December 6th, 2010 in exchange for pitcher Shaun Marcum.

Contract Status: Date of arbitration eligibility not yet established.

Still Just a Babe: Was the fifth youngest player in the American League last year.

Minor League Stats: In three minor league seasons across four levels, played 326 games in the systems of the Brewers and Blue Jays. .360 OBP, .492 SLG, .852 OPS. 39 homers, 190 RBI, 208 runs scored in 1425 plate appearances.

2011 MLB Stats: In 171 plate appearances over 43 games, .373 OBP, .580 SLG, .953 OPS with eight doubles, four triples, nine homers, and seven steals.

Looking Back: Brett Lawrie has gone supernova.

There was plenty of excitement about him when the Jays acquired him around the Winter Meetings after the 2010 season, a fair bit of which was fuelled by the fact that he was a “homegrown” talent. (From 3000 kilometres away, but nevermind that.) At the time, we figured that a September call-up might be a possibility, but that 2013 was most likely the point where Lawrie would become an every day player.

But Lawrie’s arrival in Jays camp was loud and fierce, and garnered raves from nearly everyone who saw him bust out and impose himself into the near term plans of the team. From the media to the manager to the front office, it was hard to find anyone who wasn’t wowed by Lawrie.

Were it not for an ill-time errant pitch that caught Lawrie in the hand, he may have earned his way to Toronto as early as May last year. Lawrie not only tore up the Pacific Coast League (18 homers, 1.076 OPS, 13 steals in 69 games), but he responded to direction from the team in a way that we’ve never quite seen. When the front office noted that he was being too aggressive early in counts and not taking enough pitches, Lawrie immediately changed his approach and added close to 70 points of on-base percentage over his previous minor league outputs. Moreover, he did this while moving up a level and learning a new position.

By the time he arrived in Toronto in August, the legend of Lawrie had grown to a point where his was the most anticipated Blue Jays debut in recent memory. He did little to disappoint, cranking out game-changing hits at a hellacious pace, and looking like he belonged from the moment he arrived. There is nothing timid or tentative about Brett Lawrie.

Even his defense, which initially looked problematic, visibly improved over his two months with the big club. He appeared to loosen up in his approach to fielding the ball, and by season’s end, his throws looked loose and elegant while remaining strong and on target.

Looking Forward: Last week, as we walked around the concourse at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, we saw Lawrie’s name screened onto the backs of more fans’ new blue paraphernalia than every other Blue Jay combined. And though he spent most of that week sitting out to rest a sore groin, his comings and goings were closely monitored by all of the other baseball nerds who showed up at 11 am to watch practice sessions.

As much as we might attempt to maintain a critical distance from the patriotically-fuelled Lawrie-mania, we have to tell you: It’s really difficult to resist the urge to watch his every step. We were compelled to watch him take grounders at third, and especially notice the improvement on his footwork and throws. We couldn’t help but pay attention as he crushed the ball in batting practice – the ball really does sound different coming off his bat – nor could we help but notice how eager he was with a smile and a handshake to the media or fans assembled on the field.

Brett Lawrie is a big bright shining star.

Of course, this season will bring a whole new test, as Lawrie will have to adjust to teams who have video on him and his approach to hundreds of at bats. Given his previous determination to make adjustments and absorb instruction, it will be interesting to see if Lawrie will recognize new patterns and reconfigure his own approach. We’d find it hard to bet against him.

2012 Expectations: Last year’s big league numbers were pretty extraordinary, though we wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves in trumpeting that small sample. Still, Lawrie has a number of tools at his disposal, and can use his speed to change games should his power regress. Health will also be a concern, given his tendency to play all-out, all the time.

Lawrie will still be young, and still have to adapt and adjust to a higher level of play and tremendous pressure. But we wouldn’t want to be the one attempting to rationalize doubts about his ability to conquer his foes and exceed the expectations.

A full year of watching Brett Lawrie is a very exciting thought to hold onto on the eve of the season.


MRB said...

Brett Lawrie is Toronto's equivalent to Boston's Dustin Pedroia.

The Blue Jay Changeup said...

A bit taller, but I would agree. He's just entertaining to watch. I'm not sure he can sustain last year's level of performance, but if he does... WATCH OUT AL EAST.