April 4, 2012
Canada's Golden Brett Lawrie
By BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency
CLEVELAND - Ray Lewis. Dustin Pedroia. Bo Jackson. Brett Favre. Pete Rose.
Take your pick.
They’re some athletes Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie was compared to on the eve 2012’s opening day.
Lawrie has only played 43 games in the majors.
Yet, go by the OPS barometer, he’s off to a fastest start of any Canadian hitter.
Better than Larry Walker, Justin Morneau or Joey Votto or anyone else.
Reliever Casey Janssen marvels at Lawrie’s ability to stroke extra base hits and his raw speed.
“He’s so strong, so quick, that combination is rare in this game,” Janssen said Wednesday at Progressive Field.
“He’s so go-go. He must sleep like a baby at night. He’s non-stop away from the park, in the clubhouse and on the field. He’s infectious in our dugout.”
Lawrie, 22, is in his fourth full season of pro ball.
Manager John Farrell was at triple-A Buffalo his fourth full season at age at 24.
Bench coach Don Wakamatsu was playing at double-A Chattanooga in his fourth year ... at age 25.
Lefty Darren Oliver, who was at double-A Tulsa in Year 4 at 21, asked jokingly whether Lawrie has 12 cans of Red Bulls before coming to the park.
While Lawrie has won over his clubhouse one Canadian said he was “not comfy talking about Lawrie yet ... not yet. I’ve played with other hot starters, who have not continued their hot starts.”
Outfielder Rajai Davis was at class-A Lynchburg in his fourth season at age 23.
“I’ve never seen a player like him,” said Greg Hamilton, director of Baseball Canada’s national teams and Lawrie’s coach with the Canadian junior team.
Lawrie is asked growing up and playing with Doug Mathison’s Langley Blaze, who his favourite player is and he answers Justin Morneau “the way he burst onto the scene.”
Lawrie is told of the other players on the list and is asked to guess where he ranks after his first 43 games, based on OPS.
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe the middle of the pack,” Lawrie said as he’s handed the print out.
“Top of the charts. Cool. Let’s see if I can keep it going. I’m not much of a numbers guy, but let’s see if I can stay there. These guys all have or had tremendous careers.”
At age 22, Romero made 18 starts at double-A New Hampshire in 2007 and he didn’t make his first start with the Jays until two years later.
“He’s always up, always ready to go,” said Adam Lind. “I get the impression he competes the way Brett Favre competed when he was with the Green Bay Packers.”
“The thing about Brett is he’s a special kid,” Romero said. “He’s not a selfish kid, he carries himself like a true big leaguer. I’m happy to have him as a teammate.”
Romero thinks for a few seconds considering on which major leaguer most compares most to Lawrie.
“Maybe Dustin Pedroia,” said Romero about the Boston Red Sox second baseman. “You look at Pedroia and he’s short in stature (5-foot-9). Somebody would think this guy’s won a rookie of the year? An MVP trophy?
“Well, yes he has won a rookie of the year and the MVP. He’s also been an all-star and won a World Series. I know it’s cliche but they both give 110%.”
The toughest part for Lawrie has yet to come.
“We haven’t seen him hit a slump, which happens to everyone,” Romero said. “How anyone deals with a slump tells a lot about a player.”
“I’ve seen a guy who played the way Lawrie plays,” said infielder Omar Vizquel. “Bo Jackson. He had the body and the football-playing background. This young guy plays like a football player. Both of their bats travel so quickly through the zone.”
“Bo was excitable. Remember that time he struck out and broke the bat over his leg?”
Jason Frasor doesn’t have anyone who matches Lawrie’s make up, but when he looks at third base and sees Lawrie it reminds him of an all-star.
“The way he stands at third, all business, the strength of his upper body, his hit-it-to-me approach? I look at him and I see Scott Rolen.”
Kyle Drabek is used to being the guy on a team with the most amount of energy, whether he was pitching in high school at The Woodland, Tex., in the minors with the Philadelphia Phillies or with the Jays after the Roy Halladay deal.
Or when he was a wide receiver playing high school football.
“I lost my title to him,” Drabek said. “Lawrie plays with the mentality of a football player, a middle linebacker. He has the explosiveness of say a Ray Lewis. We only spent a short time together at Las Vegas, last September at the Rogers Centre and then this spring.
“He has so much energy, he has the ability to get the team pumped up.”
Neil Munro is the former guru with STATs Inc. He has a handle on numbers.
Either at the plate or in the field.
Either Cap Anson and Honus Wagner, both Hall of Famers from the 1900s.
Plus he knows how one Canadian compares with other Canadians. The North Bay resident pointed out how Lawrie hit 18 homers along with a .347 average in half a season at the triple-A level before being promoted Aug. 5.
“Lawrie always exhibits unbridled enthusiasm and is a fan favourite wherever he performs,” said Munro, who pro-rated Lawrie’s .293 average, nine homers and 25 RBIs and other numbers in 43 games last year over a 162-game season.
Munro said Lawrie would have scored 98 runs, with 30 doubles, 15 triples, 34 homers, 94 RBIs and 26 stolen bases.
“His .580 slugging percentage (albeit in 150 at bats) is the best career mark by any Canadian (surpassing Walker’s career mark of.565). If anything, Lawrie was even more impressive in the field.
“His range factor at third was a hefty 3.67 mark, easily the best for any third baseman in the majors with at least 10 games in the field. On top of that, it is the best range factor posted since 1966 when Clete Boyer (Yankees) managed a 3.68 per game range factor.
“Lawrie reminds me very much of a youthful Pete Rose.”
Back when we covered Rose in 1984 with the Montreal Expos his eyes were always wide open.
He never blinked.
Come to think of it, we’ve never seen Lawrie blink either.