Lawrie developing into reliable young third baseman
The Toronto Blue Jays had targeted Canadian-born Brett Lawrie (pronounced Lorry) as their first selection with the 17th pick of the 2008 First-Year Player draft.
The plan was to bring a homegrown player to the Blue Jays. After all, Lawrie had played on the 2008 Canadian Olympic Team. As a matter of fact, his sister Danielle was a member of the Canadian Women's softball team the same year. Athletic genes run in the Lawrie family.
The plan was sidetracked when the Milwaukee Brewers selected Lawrie as their own first-round choice one pick earlier. The Blue Jays then tabbed first baseman David Cooper with their first selection.
At the time, Lawrie was drafted as a catcher. His stocky body and good athletic ability seemed to profile well for that position. He had even worked out with then Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Russell Martin, another native of Canada. However, by mutual agreement with the Brewers, Lawrie switched to playing second base.
With Rickie Weeks entrenched at second base, the Brewers made a decision that allowed them to bolster their pitching staff. In December 2010, they obtained starting right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum in a trade with Toronto. The price for Marcum was Lawrie, the young prospect who was blocked at his new position.
It was an excellent trade for both clubs. The Brewers obtained a pitcher they really needed, and the Blue Jays got the player they had once coveted and targeted. They believed Lawrie had the ability to hit for average, hit for power and had enough speed and technique to steal bases.
Lawrie showed strong hitting skills early in his career. He had the advantage of hitting with wooden bats in his home community of Langley, British Columbia, and has hit well everywhere he's played.
As a Minor League player with two years of experience in the Brewers organization, and one season playing for Toronto at high Class A and Triple-A, Lawrie hit a combined .296 over 1,425 plate appearances.
He showed enough bat control and contact to convince the Blue Jays that he was ready to play in Toronto, though his arrival was delayed a bit due to a hand injury he suffered in May last year.
On August 4, 2011, Lawrie was promoted to the Blue Jays from Triple-A Las Vegas. He got a hit and knocked in a run in his first at-bat.
Lawrie is an aggressive, competitive player. He's the type of guy that plays bigger than his 6-foot, 215-pound frame.
Lawrie has strong hands and forearms that help him drive the ball. But it's really the force he gets from his powerful lower body that helps to generate gap power. He's an intelligent hitter with good eye-hand coordination and solid pitch recognition. Seeing the ball well with good concentration, Lawrie has the ability to take pitchers deep in counts with patience and selectivity.
Earlier in his career, Lawrie was more pull-conscious than he is now. He can spray the ball to all parts of the field and has the strength to hit the gaps.
He may not be contending for a home run championship, but as he matures in the game, Lawrie should drive in runs.
In general, Lawrie's swing mechanics are sound. In the past, there were times when I saw lots of movement in his hands and arms before he settled at the plate. He has calmed that down now, and his bat is ready for the pitch.
Lawrie is only 22 years old. Like many young players, he shows some vulnerability to breaking balls down, away, and out of the strike zone. Those pitches are very tempting and are tough for any hitter to avoid.
Some have compared Lawrie to Jeff Kent. Others compare him to Dan Uggla. I'm not sure either comparison is accurate. He doesn't have the power of either Kent or Uggla at this point in his young career. That is not to say that his power won't continue to develop.
With the recent hand injury to Jose Bautista, Lawrie has been moved to the 3rd spot in the Blue Jays batting order, and his progress has been rewarded.
As of July 18, Lawrie is hitting .280 with eight home runs and 34 runs batted in. He has stolen 12 bases and has been caught stealing eight times. He has 56 strikeouts and he has walked 19 times. Those are solid numbers, and a good beginning to his professional career.
Defensively, I think Lawrie is still a work in progress, partially due to his position transitions. A good athlete, Lawrie is capable of making adjustments, but learning to hit Major League pitching while refining one's defense is a challenge.
His biggest issue may be footwork and range at third base. If he gets a bit of a late read on the ball off the bat, he'll be watching as the ball heads into left field for a base hit. The quickness with which the ball gets to him and the pure force of the ball are issues to overcome. He still has work to do on the defensive side of his game.
Lawrie does have enough arm strength and accuracy to play third base, so that won't be an issue moving forward.
Blue Jays fans should be encouraged by Lawrie's consistent and passionate play at third base, a position where quality hitting is becoming scarce.
Lawrie will provide maximum effort. He will strive to improve, and he may be harder on himself than his toughest critics. He will drive himself to success. It's in his genes.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.