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2013 Predictions: Brett Lawrie
Despite the media hype and the prayers of Blue Jays fans, Brett Lawrie’s 2012 season did not amount to The Second Coming. However, it’s important that we rein in our expectations and try to ignore the fact Lawrie is Toronto’s Great Canadian Hope. Anticipating a continuation of his 2011 performance was unrealistic, given both the small sample size and the level at which he performed as a rookie.
Consider that Lawrie played his first full MLB season at the age of 22 and provided near league-average offence (97 OPS+). While still relatively new to third base, he demonstrated tremendous range, quickness and arm strength and his athleticism allowed the team to employ infield shifts aggressively, making him a very valuable defensive player. However, his frequent lapses of judgement running the bases and injury-inducing all-out play are oft-cited examples of his immaturity. He remains a potential all star player, one who needs to mature as much as a person as he does a hitter.
Batting Stats (Past Three Seasons):
Lawrie was a productive member of the Toronto Blue Jays last year at the age of 22 and that is very impressive. Sure, he put on an even more phenomenal display over a 43-game span in 2011, but we shouldn’t let that overshadow his 2012 performance. Like most ballplayers who make it to the majors at such a young age, Lawrie has room to get better; he was impatient both at the plate and on the bases last year and he didn’t display as much power as he is capable. On the other hand, he’s miles ahead of where most people expected him to be defensively. You may recall that Lawrie was a second baseman when he was acquired prior to the 2011 season and some were questioning his ability to stick at third base, suggesting he would end up in left field. Lawrie answered those questions emphatically; not only was he a capable defender in 2012, he was an exceptional one. In 2013, I expect we’ll see him continue to prove himself by improving his power production, but that will only be possible if he’s a more patient hitter, as pitchers will no doubt be reluctant to throw him strikes until he proves he’s willing to wait for them. The only other question that remains surrounds his ability to stay healthy given his aggressive style of play. While I think health concerns pertaining to Lawrie are legitimate over the long-term, I expect he’ll be able to stay healthy right now, after all he’s only 23 and there are only so many camera bays into which he can throw himself (knock on wood).
Brett Lawrie’s much-anticipated 2011 MLB debut and the immediate success with which he met, reminds me of Gregg Jeffries, a similarly highly-touted infield prospect from my childhood. In 1988, at age 20 with the New York Mets, Jeffries posted a .321 / .364 / .596 slash line that resulted in an OPS of .961 and a 178 OPS+ over 29 games played. Expectations shot through the roof, and Jeffries “slumped” to a slightly above average 106 OPS+ in his first full season. His performance improved ever so slightly over the next few seasons, but it wasn’t until his age-25 season that he broke out, batting .342 / .408 / .485 .for an OPS+ of 142, and finishing 11th in MVP voting in the process. While Jeffries may have been considered a better “pure” hitter, Lawrie is blessed with significantly more power and better speed. But what Lawrie can learn from Jeffries is that improving his plate discipline will be key to raising his overall performance. One of the major disappointments of Lawrie’s 2012 campaign was his patience. He walked in only 6.2% of his plate appearances, vs. 9.5% in 2011, and saw an average of 3.66 pitches per plate appearance, down from 4.07 the year prior. I expect Lawrie to be more selective at the plate in 2013 and for his overall numbers to improve. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s that I want to believe this to be the case. After all, he’s our Great Canadian Hope.
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