Transition successful, Lawrie ready to produce
Third baseman can shift focus from position swap back to hitting
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- It's sometimes easy to forget that during last year's Spring Training, there were plenty of doubts about whether Brett Lawrie would be able to handle the transition to third base.
The 22-year-old top prospect came up through Milwaukee's Minor League ranks as a second baseman, and it remained to be seen whether he could successfully move across the diamond in Toronto.
Lawrie's bat was Major League-ready, but his glove wasn't. That prompted a stint in the Minors to work out the kinks in preparation for the next level.
"I've taken a lot of pride in my defense," said Lawrie, who was acquired during the 2010 Winter Meetings for right-hander Shaun Marcum. "That was the biggest concern that people had. I had no position to play, so I wanted to prove the point that I could play the position, that I could play any position.
"I did need to hone my skills at third base when I went to Triple-A and needed to prove that I could play there. That was what I was there to do."
Blue Jays manager John Farrell was among those to lobby for Lawrie's inclusion on the big league roster last spring. He was ultimately overruled by general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of Toronto's front office, because the club felt like additional seasoning in the Minors was required.
During last year's Spring Training, Lawrie displayed a strong arm, but he still had trouble coming in on slow grounders and making a reliable throw on the run. He also needed to improve his footwork, but after working on those skills in Triple-A -- and spending extra time with roving infield instructor Mike Mordecai -- the goal was accomplished.
Lawrie's debut in the Major Leagues was delayed by a broken left hand. But by the time he arrived in early August, most of the defensive problems had been solved. He exceeded expectations by displaying above-average range, and he committed just six errors in 164 opportunities during 380 1/3 innings on the field with the Blue Jays.
"I just wanted to prove that I was really sound," Lawrie said. "I knew I was going to hit. That's what I've always done. Now I had to learn that aspects of it. Not that I hadn't played there before. I had [with Canadian National Team], and I didn't find it that hard to jump into the pool and get it going."
The whispers from scouts and various critics about Lawrie needing to be moved into a corner-outfield spot have all but disappeared. Now the attention shifts back to Lawrie's production at the plate.
That was one area the native of Langley, British Columbia, had little difficulty with in 2011. Lawrie hit .293 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs in just 150 at-bats. He also recorded 21 extra-base hits, scored 26 runs, stole seven bases and posted a .953 OPS.
Those statistics would become staggering numbers when expanded for a full season, but the Blue Jays are doing their best to keep expectations to a realistic level. A lot of players go through sophomore slumps, and while Toronto isn't expecting that, it also knows there are bound to be some ups and downs along the way.
"I'm cautiously optimistic, because I just know from experience with young players that they don't always just hit the ground running and don't stop," Anthopoulos said. "The league will have to adjust to him, he'll have to adjust back. I think even his last 10 games or so before he got hurt, he started to chase a little bit more and so on, but at the same time, he obviously was great.
"I thought the quality of his at-bats were outstanding. That being said, I don't think it's fair to take the stats he had last year and try to prorate them over 500 at-bats. That's probably not going to happen."
Regardless of what type of year Lawrie ends up having, the Blue Jays can expect a high-energy player who isn't afraid to compete with a lot of passion, even if it rubs some other teams the wrong way.
Last year, during a game against the A's on Aug. 10, Lawrie hit a grand slam during a five-run sixth inning that propelled the Blue Jays to an 8-4 victory. While Lawrie rounded the bases he pumped his fist several times and the celebration continued once in the dugout.
Later in the same game, Lawrie doubled and scored another run, and there was a second outbreak of emotion. This time, Oakland reliever Jordan Norberto took offense and drilled Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar with the first pitch immediately following Lawrie crossing the plate.
Norberto declined to comment, but sources within the A's clubhouse said the pitch to Escobar was in direct retaliation to Lawrie's outburst, while Craig Breslow said: "I probably wouldn't have chosen to celebrate it that way."
It's that emotion, though, that the Blue Jays like to see. Lawrie is the type of player who teams would love to have on their roster and the kind of player they hate opposing. Lawrie is not about to make any apologies for that.
"I play with a lot of passion," Lawrie said. "That's part and parcel of the guy that I am and the player that I am, the fire that I have. It's just the way I do things, the way I go about my business. It's the way I play the game.
"It gets me going, and it seems to get everyone else going. I always feel that if I can get all my teammates going, we're going to be better off for it."