When asked about dealing starting pitcher Shaun Marcum in 2010, Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos said it was â€œthe most difficult trade Iâ€™ve had to make.â€ Despite Marcumâ€™s reliability, Brett Lawrie fit Anthopoulosâ€™ desire to build around youth and upside. The five-tool player ascended through the minor leagues and plays the game with an infectious intensity.
Anthopoulos was cautious with Lawrie to begin 2011, opting to send him to the Las Vegas 51s (AAA-PCL) as he continued to adjust defensively at third base. The former catcher posted a .353/.415/18/64/13 line in 329 AAA plate appearances but had his Major League debut delayed until August 5th due to a broken hand. While the likes of Mike Moustakas, Anthony Rizzo, and Eric Hosmer drained FAAB budgets, those lucky enough to wait on Lawrie reaped the benefits.
In 171 plate appearances with the Blue Jays, Lawrie posted a .293/.373/9/25/7 line. He possesses a rare power-speed combination at the hot corner that should excite fantasy managers in 2012.
If we prorate his power and speed numbers over 600 PA, we end up with 32 HR and 25 SB. Â One of the knocks on Lawrie at Huntsville (AA-SOUL) was his SB rate. He ended 2010 30/43 (69.7%) which is pretty unacceptable for a Major Leaguer who runs at his clip. He was able to turn this around in 2011, however, going 20/23 between Las Vegas and Toronto. Whether this points to a more disciplined approach or him figuring out how to run, itâ€™s safe to assume that 25 SB are on the table for the youngster in 2012.
A healthy fly ball rate (44.9%) suggests that Lawrie is capable of hitting 20+ HR even when his HR/FB rate (17%) regresses back to the mid-teens. Lawrie has always possessed the raw power potential to develop into a consistent 20+ HR player despite his light power numbers in the minors. His plate discipline, a question mark in the past, has improved since 2010 but Iâ€™d like to see his BB% improve. Lawrieâ€™s .373 OBP with Toronto last year is about 35 points higher than he projects.
Hitting in the 2 hole in front of Jose Bautista offers Lawrie great protection. He showed improved plate discipline in 2011 and saw fastballs 53.8% of the time in Toronto. Although he needs time to fully adjust to Major League breaking balls, Lawrieâ€™s quick hands and above-average hand eye coordination will help to mitigate the growing pains.
A quick glance at my projections for the top 10 3B in 2012 offers a great insight into the value Lawrie offers this season.
Lawrie should stick out like a sore thumb courtesy of his speed. Bautista and Longoria aside, I canâ€™t justify anyone else in the first round as they all have question marks. Beltre, Wright, and A-Rod are all injury concerns. Zimmerman and Sandoval, BA aside, donâ€™t offer elite power or run production. Aramis Ramirez will be playing in a depleted line-up for the first 50 games and I donâ€™t rate Hanley Ramirez highly enough to consider him in the 9-15 range. Lawrie should safely go in the 4th round of mixed leagues and offers an elite differential at a discount.
If Iâ€™m taking a stab at a third baseman in 2012, itâ€™s Brett Lawrie every day and twice on Sundays. He is sure to struggle at times like all young players do. The kicker is that he could hit .225 in June and still steal 6 bases. If Ryan Zimmerman hits .225 in a given month, youâ€™ll be banging your head against the wall because he brings nothing else to the table.