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Bernie On The Scene: Blue Jays Got Their Man

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

The best baseball trades help both clubs. In the case of the Blue Jays trading right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum to Milwaukee for Brewers second base prospect Brett Lawrie, both clubs may reap the benefits. We won't know for a while, as Lawrie is still playing at Triple-A Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League, but Marcum is having a very good season on the mound for the Brewers.

Why did the Brewers give up so quickly on a hot prospect like Lawrie? Unless one is on the inside of a baseball organization, the true reasons are never really known. However, there is speculation. Those who may know have indicated that Lawrie refused to play in the Arizona Fall League at the end of the 2010 season and it upset the front office. That may or may not be true. Here is what is true. When the rosters were announced, Lawrie's name was on the Brewers 'list of players. When it was time for games to begin, Eric Farris showed up in Lawrie's place. Farris went on to hit .351 in the AFL and little was said about Lawrie not being on the club. Taking the concerns about Lawrie further, some say he had exhibited a very poor attitude with “makeup” issues that didn't suit the Brewers' desired style. I also have no idea if that is true, but I guess it made for good gossip at the time. There were some articles that suggested Lawrie boasted that he wouldn't be in the minor leagues very long and that he was ready to play on the big league club. That didn't sit too well with the brass either. He indicated the Brewers never gave him a timetable for his advancement to Milwaukee and he called it a "communication" problem. His desire to succeed certainly shouldn't be an issue. He's driven and motivated to play big league baseball. He's an aggressive and competitive player. That is often considered to be arrogant and/or "off putting" to some.

During his first Instructional League season after being drafted by the Brewers, Lawrie indicated he didn't like the grind of catching in professional baseball. He and the Brewers mutually agreed to try him at second base. He took his lumps physically at the keystone, breaking his nose at his new position, but he managed to survive.

On December 5, 2010, Lawrie was traded to the Blue Jays for Marcum. The trade was designed to help a player blocked at his position (second base by Rickie Weeks) while bolstering a pitching staff in need of help. At least that was the way the deal was portrayed at the time. Regardless the motivation, Lawrie is in the Toronto organization and Marcum is pitching for a contender in the National League Central. Everyone is happy.

The Blue Jays had targeted the Canadian-born Lawrie to be their first selection with the 17th pick in the 2008 first-year player draft. One pick ahead of their own at No. 16, the Brewers took him, leaving first base prospect David Cooper to be chosen by Toronto. In fact, prior to the draft Lawrie had indicated he would attend Arizona State University to play baseball. That pre-draft chatter didn't phase the Brewers and a $1.7M signing bonus helped persuade Lawrie to sign a professional baseball contract. At the time he was drafted, Lawrie became the highest Canadian position player ever selected in the June first-year player draft. That in itself is quite an accomplishment.

Lawrie can flat out hit, both for average and power. He can run and he can probably steal bases at the big league level as well. Can he play defense? If so, where? Before discussing his defensive shortcomings, it's important to know more about this 6-foot 215-pound right-handed hitter.

Lawrie went to high school at Brookswood Secondary in British Columbia, Canada. The Brewers drafted him as a catcher and as indicated above, they mutually agreed to play him at second base. Before he actually signed with the Brewers, Lawrie represented Canada as a member of the 2008 Canadian Olympic team. He even worked with fellow Canadian Russell Martin on catching technique. Interestingly, his sister Danielle was a member of the Canadian Olympic softball team the same year. Danielle, three years older than Brett, was a star pitcher at University of Washington. Word is that Danielle is as tenacious and competitive as her brother, sharing a will to succeed and a desire to win. After his Olympic team selection, Lawrie also represented his country in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Lawrie (pronounced Lorry according to a scout friend of mine) has hit everywhere he played. In his formative years in Langley, British Columbia, Lawrie used a wooden bat exclusively as aluminum and metal bats were never used. Lawrie feels it's an advantage he's had in his professional career since he has not had to make an adjustment to wood from metal bats like many hitters.

Lawrie is an athletic player with big, strong hands and strong forearms. He has a powerful lower body as well and that helps provide the overall strength to his swing. He exhibits very good bat control, showing a consistent ability to use a short swing and make contact. His hand-eye coordination is seen as a major factor for his success. But of all his qualities and positive mechanical attributes, it is his bat speed that scouts speak about glowingly. Carrying the bat through the ball with plus speed and level hands helps generate home-run power. He's a speedy 4.15 from home to first base, well below major league average of 4.50. In addition to hitting the gaps and clearing the fence, Lawrie should be able to leg-out his fair share of extra hits.

Lawrie has the ability to hit the ball to all fields, but his “pull side” power is probably more advanced than his ability to take the pitch to the opposite field. He's an aggressive hitter that takes strong cuts at the ball and doesn't get cheated at the plate, showing an “every at-bat counts” mentality. He doesn't waste his chances to hit the ball hard.

The major flaw regarding Lawrie's mechanics at the plate is really not an issue that will set him back. He has lots of movement with his hands and body before he settles in and gets comfortable. Movement can often cause hitters to be late on pitches or not finish their swings. Not with Lawrie. His hands are so fast that he can fidget and move around and still get into hitting position without a problem. Because of his power and his questionable defense, Lawrie has often been compared to Braves second baseman Dan Uggla. I don't think it's a bad comp.

The real issues for Lawrie appear on defense. Where will he play as a major leaguer? He has been shifted again as a defender from second base to third base by the Blue Jays. While he isn't a disaster at third, he isn't going to win a Gold Glove at his current performance level. He has enough quickness and range to play there, but he needs more time to learn the position. Many of his errors have come on throws to first base. He has a strong arm but it isn't accurate and that's an issue. Lawrie may be delayed in getting a promotion because the Blue Jays may not want him to learn to play defense at the major league level. It's even possible that Lawrie could be converted to a corner outfielder. In 2010 at Huntsville (Double-A) for Milwaukee, Lawrie's numbers looked like this:

131 games, 554 at-bats = .349/12/39 with a 1.057 OPS.

Lawrie's season earned him a promotion to Triple-A this year. So far, he is
enjoying a fantastic season at Las Vegas with a line as follows:

51 games, 223 at bats = .354/15/49 with 11 stolen bases. He's been caught stealing once. He has 18 walks and 40 strikeouts so far, with 12 errors to date.

It must do wonders for the confidence of any player to know that your current club had targeted you as a player even before another club drafted you. Then your new club still went and got you. That fact can allow Lawrie to play with confidence and not worry about a promotion to the big league club. He knows it's coming, he just has to refine his work at third base and be prepared when he gets his chance.

By getting their man, the Blue Jays can look forward to an aggressive and dedicated player with a loud and productive bat. If he can have an Uggla-type career, I think he and the Blue Jays would be very happy. Now it's a matter of determining if he can play major league quality third base, or if another position will suit him best.

Lawrie suffered a bruised hand in a Triple-A game May 31. The bruise should keep him out of the lineup for a few games, but it is much better news than he and the Blue Jays feared. Lawrie is still on the radar for a promotion to the big league club sooner than later. It's just been delayed a bit.


Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former pro scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. He is a graduate of the Major League Scouting Bureau's Scout School in Phoenix.

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