Brett Lawrie's Debut a Success

How do we evaluate whether or not a player’s debut is a success or not? If we’re looking at it from the team’s point of view, and baseball is a team sport, it should be based on whether or not the team wins and whether or not that player helped the team earn that win. Well, if we use that analogy, Brett Lawrie’s debut with the Toronto Blue Jays was one big success story.

I’ll point out what I was able to observe during the game.

Pre-Game

I couldn’t help but notice that Lawrie was talking extensively with John McDonald before the game. Talk about the right guy to speak to! It seemed that Johnny Mac was trying to keep Lawrie loose and he gave him a nice pat on the back when their conversation was done. Hopefully he’ll be able to help Lawrie improve his defensive skills, as it became obvious during the game that it may be a sticking point for the remainder of 2011 and into the start of 2012. Still, overall, it was encouraging to see one of the leaders of the clubhouse take time to speak to Lawrie, and it was equally nice to see Lawrie being open to the communication. If that keeps up, he should get all of the help he needs to get more comfortable at 3B and should be able to let his natural talents take over from there defensively speaking.

The Stance

I had seen Lawrie hit a few times before as I watched him play a few times, but I never noticed how high he keeps his hands within his stance until I saw him on TV. His hands are just as high as Bautista’s, but unlike Bautista, he swirls his bat around in anticipation of the pitch. Either way, the high hand stance allows him to use his bat speed to do the rest of the work and get wood on the ball quickly when he decides to swing. I could see the Jays. The crouch in his stance and his long arms see to give him plenty of plate coverage as he is very close to the plate. With his bat speed to cover the inside of the plate, and the reach it gives him to reach pitches on the outer half, I can see why he does so well.

Overall, his stance matches his personality: it’s aggressive, full of energy, and allows him to make the most of his abilities. The Jays may ask him to be a little more quiet at the plate eventually, but overall, it’s looks like a very sound approach at the plate.

The First AB

Having just mentioned his aggressive stance at the plate, I couldn’t get over the pitches he was able to watch go by him in his first AB. Both seemed tempting and just fell off from the lower part of the strike zone as they reached him. Both were balls and allowed him to get into a good hitter’s count. More importantly, it sent a message to Matt Wieters and Tommy Hunter: if they were going to get Lawrie out, they were going to have to throw strikes. With 2 runners on base, that was critical to his seeing a strike and is an indication of the kind of player he’ll be at the plate. Patient, but aggressive when he sees a pitch he likes. We saw the latter part as he almost took Hunter out when he drove a 92 MPH fastball through the middle for his first hit and first RBI as an MLB player.

A very impressive approach, a very nice result, and hopefully a sign of what he’ll continue to improve on from here on out!

The Other ABs

During his next ABs, Lawrie was able to get into a hitter’s count (3 BB, 1 S) before grounding out, struck out swinging on a 91 MPH fastball from Troy Patton, but also drove a 91 MPH fastball from Chris Jakubaukus to left-field for a single. That second single of the game for Lawrie was the first time he swung at one of the first 2 pitches. When he grounded out, he ran so hard to 1st base that I was forced to be impressed with his determination. I also noticed how fast he is out of the box, which will help him earn quite a few infield hits.

Overall, we have to be happy with all of his ABs in this game. He was able to focus enough despite the pressure of his first game to come through with 2 key singles. His ability to lay off the off-speed stuff is evident, and he definitely sees the ball very well.

The Defensive Plays

Yes, Lawrie struggled to get glove on the ball on occasions throughout this one, but I’m giving him a pass due to it being his first game. Both balls hit to him were fairly sharply hit, particularly the second, and I am hopeful that he’ll do better with such plays in the future. However, after seeing what he can do at the plate, I am positive that all coaches and players will now be focused on helping him get better at 3B. It’s critical to both Lawrie himself and to Jays pitchers that he do well at the hot corner. I predicted that this would be an issue, and I’m hoping that over time it remains a minor issue, not a major one.

By the end of August, we should have a much better feel for whether or not he’ll be able to improve at 3B. I’ll reserve judgement until at least that time for now.

Other Game Notes

If there were ever proof that the Jays absolutely need to sign a big name closer this off-season, the recent stretch of botched save opportunities is all of the ammunition needed. Jon Rauch is really getting under the skin of Jays fans lately, and he almost blew yet another save chance last night. I’m going to post something about this issue later today or tomorrow, but it’s obvious that the Jays need to take a peak at how the Diamondbacks focused on their pen and reaped the benefits for it this season. If the Jays are ever going to challenge the Red Sox and Yankees, they need a shutdown pen.

Brad Mills looked decent on the mound. Not great, but good enough to earn the win against a team like the Orioles. J.P. Arencibia allowed his 10th passed ball of the season, which is something he still has to work on if he’s going to fend Travis d’Arnaud off in the future. Frank Francisco looked strong enough to earn the save situation role again, and should be in that role soon. And finally, it was great to see John Farrell get fired up again. He’s starting to get more aggressive with the umps, which earns him the respect of his team as well as the fans. Great stuff.

Judging from his ABs, Brett Lawrie will likely move up in the lineup very soon, but it’s too early to say when. All I can say is that JPA, for all of his power, is hitting a lowly .216 which helps explain his 5 players left on base last night. Aaron Hill isn’t doing much better with a .232 average and lacks any pop this season. Therefore, it shouldn’t be long before we see Lawrie hit 7th in the lineup or so. It’s also possible that he’ll make the jump to 2B in place of Thames, but it seems that the Jays currently believe Thames needs to be there to see more fastballs in front of Jose Bautista and Adam Lind.

Whatever happens with the lineup order, it’s obvious that pitchers will now have to be a lot more careful while pitching against the Jays. Gone are the easy outs. Aside from Hill and Arencibia, both of which can still turn on a pitch and change the course of the game, the Jays lineup is now filled with more talent than I can remember their having over the last decade.

- MG

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Tags: Aaron Hill Brett Lawrie Eric Thames

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