LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When the Blue Jays acquired top prospect Brett Lawrie from Milwaukee earlier this week, they dealt from a position of strength to fill a void within the organization.
The club had a slew of young arms in its system, but there was a glaring need for more talent in the batter's box. By trading right-hander Shaun Marcum, to acquire the highest drafted Canadian position player ever taken in the First-Year Player Draft, that need has at least partially been fulfilled.
"It was something that I knew was going to happen," Lawrie said of his initial reaction to the deal. "The Brewers obviously needed pitching, and knowing that I'm one of the top prospects, getting traded was obviously in the cards. I knew it was going to happen. I just didn't know when."
Lawrie is one of the top-ranked offensive prospects in the game. He entered the 2010 campaign listed at No.26 on MLB.com's Top 50 prospects and likely will improve on that standing prior to the start of next season.
The trade is a homecoming of sorts for the native of Langley, British Columbia, who was a member of Team Canada at the 2009 World Baseball Classic and the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"It's something special," Lawrie said of joining the only team that plays north of the border. "The opportunity for me to get to play Major League Baseball in any city is an honor, but this is a bonus because of the fact that it's in Canada.
"I'm happy that I'm coming home, but there's still a lot of work to be done, and now my path is to play Major League baseball and do it sooner than later."
In 2010, Lawrie hit .285 with eight home runs and 63 RBIs in 135 games for Double-A Huntsville. The 20-year-old infielder has the ability to hit for both average and power, which has drawn comparisons from some scouts to former Major Leaguers Jeff Kent and Bret Boone.
Last season, Lawrie led the Southern League in hits (158), triples (16) and total bases (250), while tying for the league lead in runs (90). He posted those impressive numbers despite the fact he was one of the youngest regulars in a league that is considered to be very tough on hitters.
His quick rise through Milwaukee's system suggests it might not be very long before he is able to achieve his goal of playing in the big leagues. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos declined to put a timeframe on when to expect the youngster in Toronto, but it seems unlikely that would happen in 2011.
"I think it's unfair to start putting expectations and timelines on players -- especially having not been around him," Anthopoulos said. "To try and make a determination, for us, if he can get there sooner rather than later then that means things are going well. If it takes a little more time from a development standpoint ... then ultimately that'll be the decision the organization takes."
The Blue Jays expressed interest in Lawrie as far back as 2008, when he worked out for the team prior to the Draft. The talks never went very far, though, because it became apparent Milwaukee was intending to select Lawrie No. 16 overall -- one pick before Toronto.
In fall 2009, when Anthopoulos took over as GM, the club began to show renewed interest in the up-and-coming prospect.
"I know that they're a very good organization and that they were trying to get me in 2008," Lawrie said. "That didn't happen because I guess the Brewers wanted me. But I know that they're really happy that they got me and Alex told me they've been going after me through a trade for about a year."
Now that the Blue Jays have their prized asset, the biggest question surrounding Lawrie is where he will play in the field. He was drafted as a catcher but rose through the ranks of Milwaukee's Minor League system as a second baseman.
During Monday's news conference, Anthopoulos suggested third base might be in Lawrie's future. To his credit, Lawrie says the position doesn't really matter to him.
"For me it's not a huge deal," Lawrie said. "Whatever the Blue Jays need me to play, I'll be willing to play. Whatever gets me to the Major Leagues the quickest. I can play the infield and I can play the outfield, too. Whatever they ask me to do, I'll do it happily."
All of the talk surrounding the former star of the Canadian Junior program hasn't been positive. There have been whispers around baseball that Milwaukee had issues with his attitude, which, according to some, borders on cockiness.
The Blue Jays have never shied away from players who sometimes fall into that category, though. Jose Bautista had been similarly stereotyped earlier in his career and nobody has questioned catching prospect J.P. Arencibia's belief in his own abilities.
What is considered cocky to one person can be taken by another as having the confidence required to succeed at the highest level.
"I had somebody who has been around the game for 30 years tell me he has never seen somebody play harder and you'll never have an issue with him between the lines," Anthopoulos said.
"Is he intense? Is he competitive? Yes. He's somebody that plays the game to win. You're not going to get 25 players that are cut from the same cloth. But I know one thing -- his work ethic and the way he plays the game won't be matched."