Sans spotlight, Lawrie poised to realize potential
On loaded squad, talented, precocious third baseman can learn at own pace
"Two-eighteen. Don't be afraid."
This is how Brett Lawrie proffers an invitation to afternoon golf to Mark DeRosa, who does not turn it down.
"Far from being afraid," DeRosa said, "I'm in."
What we have here is a burgeoning friendship, just as the Blue Jays intended. DeRosa, 15 years Lawrie's senior and as glutinous a "glue guy" as exists in the game, was brought aboard this superstar-laden squad not to be a key component of the offense but to bring an air of professionalism both to the at-bats and interactions in this chemistry experiment of a clubhouse.
And to be sure, DeRosa's specific locker location in the Toronto clubhouse -- right next to that of Lawrie -- is no happy accident.
"I'll pay $65," DeRosa said to his neighbor, "just to see your driver."
Ah, yes. Lawrie's length off the tee is already the stuff of legend in this room. Asked for Lawrie's average distance, DeRosa exaggerates an estimate: "480 yards!"
They both laugh at this ridiculous claim, but Lawrie's athletic talent and Major League potential are no joke. What's interesting, though, is how the Blue Jays' many impactful additions have had a way of shielding Lawrie from the spotlight. The Blue Jays' supposed superstar-in-waiting is merely a side dish on Toronto's prominent plate.
"Which is great," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "I tell him that I'd rather it be that way. I'd rather Jose Bautista gets lost in the shuffle, too. I want enough [attention] to go around that it's not all falling on one guy. That's perfect."
Lawrie is coming off an imperfect 2012. He entered the year the subject of great hype and great expectations, based off his robust big league break-in at the end of '11 and his scorching spring camp. In the season proper, he hit .273 with a .729 OPS, 11 home runs, 26 doubles and 48 RBIs -- a respectable output for a guy in his first full season, but a mere scratching of the surface of what a player with Lawrie's five-tool skill set can accomplish.
"He played last year at 22," Anthopoulos said. "I even said it last Spring Training, when people were getting all excited, you can't take his 130 at-bats [from '11] and prorate them and say that's what he's going to do every year."
Lawrie's 2012 was loaded with learning experiences, from newsworthy spats with umpires (one of which earned him a four-game suspension) to a collision with a camera well that bruised his right calf to the oblique injury that cost him a month of action to the baserunning mishaps in which he was overly aggressive.
What remains to be seen is what Lawrie does with those learning experiences. He's a hyperactive athlete, for better and for worse, and so there's likely no taming down his sometimes body-sacrificing style of play.
Instincts are instincts, and they tend to take over.
"That's how I've been since I was this big," said Lawrie, gesturing down by his hip, "and I made it to the big leagues doing that. I don't see any reason to stop just because I got here."
Nor are the Blue Jays overly inclined to stop him. They figure he'll learn the best way to balance aggression and intellect as he accrues innings at this level.
"You'd rather have it this way," Anthopoulos said, "than have to try to get that effort level out of a player."
It doesn't take a scout to see Lawrie has enormous potential. What he lacks is the polish to consistently perform at his height. That will come with experience, and it will come with input from the veterans surrounding him.
Right now, these rounds of golf with DeRosa serve a practical purpose. A relationship is being built, and so when DeRosa does have a word of advice for Lawrie, that advice will be coming from a trusted source.
"I hope to be a sounding board for him," DeRosa said. "I hope to put him in a position to give him certain things to think about. Obviously, the talent level is there for him to be a perennial All-Star and one of the better players in the game. That's what's blown me away this first week of camp: what he's capable of from an offensive standpoint, defensive standpoint, the energy and the passion for the game that he has. If I can be a little help to him to kind of expedite the process, that's what I'm here for."
DeRosa had a similar relationship last year with Bryce Harper, and he sees no shortage of similarities between the two talents.
"Just their drive to be great," DeRosa says. "Their passion for being at the yard. Very similar, to be honest with you. Very similar. Bryce was a guy who lit our clubhouse up when he got called up, he really did. He was fun to watch, worth the price of a ticket every day. I had a lot of fun with him and hopefully was able to help him a little bit."
Lawrie has that same ability to light up a clubhouse and light it up on the field. If you want a big-time breakout candidate, he's as good as they come. But the beauty of what the Blue Jays have arranged is that there is no pressure on Lawrie to be the focal point of the offense.
"I feel like I'm in a great position," he says. "We've got a lot of great pieces to the puzzle."
And in Lawrie and DeRosa, the Blue Jays have two pieces that are already pairing quite well.