DUNEDIN — From the moment he found out he’d been traded to the Blue Jays, Brett Lawrie left no doubt where he intends to play this season.
“I’m ready (for the major leagues), there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m ready,” the Burnaby, B.C., native said last December, a day after he’d been dealt to the Jays for pitcher Shaun Marcum.
“I have a lot of trust in myself, a lot of trust in my ability. I’m going to go into big-league spring training, do my thing. I’m as ready as I’ve ever been.”
Apparently, this was no idle threat. From the day he arrived here, he’s been all business, clearly bent on making it tough on the Blue Jays braintrust to send him out.
“He’s been doing everything we hoped for and possibly more,” said manager John Farrell on Thursday.
Asked if he thought Lawrie could go north with the Jays, Farrell paused.
“I’ve got my thoughts,” he said, a broad smile across his face. If he had been playing poker, Farrell might have been betraying a royal flush.
The manager isn’t the only person of power who might be thinking “now” rather than “soon” but there are a lot of considerations to be weighed, not the least of which is Lawrie’s age (21) and his inexperience, after just two seasons of professional ball. He’s learning a new position, third base, but has looked comfortable there already, making some tough plays flawlessly.
And there is also the issue of starting his arbitration clock at such an early age.
At the plate, he has only a couple of hits in 11 at-bats, but has impressed with his plate awareness and his short powerful stroke.
“He’s an exciting young player,” said Farrell. “I don’t know where things end up at the end of camp. He’s not on the roster, and in this case, that’s a good thing because we can see him right to the end, giving him regular at-bats.
“We can see him in the last 10 days to two weeks where things really kick in for pitchers and they have their better stuff and better command of their secondary pitches. You get a little more accurate read on a hitter then than right now.
“But everything has been very positive. We gave up a very good pitcher to get him, but we got a very good player in return.”
Oddly, Lawrie arrived in Toronto with a reputation as an ordinary, perhaps even below-average, defender. Nothing he’s done this spring would indicate that to be true. He has good hands and a strong, accurate arm. More than that, his athleticism and quickness should serve him well to make the reactive plays necessary at third.
Jose Bautista has been working right beside Lawrie at third base for the past three weeks and likes what he sees.
“Obviously, you can’t help but notice his physical ability,” said Bautista. “He’s an incredible athlete that you’d like to have on your team.
“He’s got a nice swing, he has great speed, so there’s a lot you can do with that type of player. He’s not one-dimensional. He can steal, go first to home on a double. You want those types of players on your team.”
Last year, at double-A, Lawrie had 60 extra-base hits, including 16 triples. He runs out every ball as if he’s in the Olympic 100 metres. There is little doubt he’s going to be in the majors soon. Just how soon is a debate that will be waged in the Jays’ executive meetings throughout this month.
This isn’t a question of how many seasons away he is. It’s a question of how many months away he is. There is general agreement within the organization that Bautista might be more valuable in right field and, if Lawrie is deemed ready, Bautista in right would be better than Juan Rivera.
“On defence, Brett has pretty good hands and a great arm,” said Bautista. “He hasn’t played much third, so he needs more repetition and more experience. He’s going to be able to handle it and he’s going to get where he needs to go quicker than anybody expects him to. He’s just that type of competitor.”
Lawrie is a kid who came to camp this year determined to kick down the door to his big-league career. It’s early, but he’s already rattling the hinges.