What Can We Expect From Brett Lawrie in 2012?

The Toronto Blue Jays haven’t had a rookie generate as much attention and excitement that Brett Lawrie brought in 2011 since former Jays GM Gord Ash brought in Jose Cruz Jr. (for Paul Spoljaric and Mike Timlin).  It is safe to say that Lawrie exceeded even the loftiest of expectations for 2011, whether it was his stellar minor league numbers or during his brief major league cameo.

Going into last year there were a few question marks with respect to Brett Lawrie’s development, first he was a man without a firm position.  Lawrie has already switched from catcher to second base and finally when acquired by the Blue Jays permanently to third base.  Second, while not many pundits questioned his overall hit tool there was talk that he wasn’t patient enough and could be exposed at the major league level.

Lawrie just turned 22 and will be entering his first full season in the big leagues.  Let’s have a look at his numbers over his brief pro career and what we can expect for this coming season.

2009 (A) 423 274 348 454 18 13 9.7 16.5 .362
2010 (AA) 609 285 346 449 35 8 7.7 19.4 .361
2011 (AAA) 329 353 415 661 24 18 7.9 16.1 .460
2011 (MLB) 171 293 373 580 8 9 9.4 18.1 .413

 Considering how young Lawrie was at each respective level (and especially the bigs) those numbers are insanely good.  Looking at them like this also makes me curious as to why the Milwaukee Brewers even pondered moving him – kudos to Alex Anthopoulos

Lawrie is a hitter, no way around it as he is very aggressive and shows plus bat speed through the zone.  His K% has been pretty stellar at each level given his age and he has done a good job of trying to add patience to his approach at the plate, though that still has to be considered a bit of a weak spot.

Although it is still early in his career and small sample size caveats apply it also appears Lawrie has shown an early aptitude at third base.  Showing solid range Lawrie made a bunch of great defensive plays for the Jays and UZR pegged him at 5.7 – a very respectable showing for a rookie learning a new position.  I think he has alleviated concerns that he will be a porous defender at the very least.

There have been numerous comparisons thrown around when discussing Brett Lawrie and his potential future.  The two names I hear the most frequently are Mets 3B David Wright (the good version) and Brewers LF Ryan Braun. 

Let’s look at their second seasons in the bigs to get an idea of what to expect from Lawrie in 2012:

D. Wright (2005) 657 306 388 523 27 17 .217 .393
R. Braun (2008) 663 285 335 553 37 14 .268 .377

 I don’t think Lawrie will match the on-base skills of Wright or the absolute monster home run hitting ability of Braun in 2012 but I think we could split the difference of the two and get a pretty good gauge on what Brett Lawrie could possibly produce this season.  I like that David Wright comparison the most as there style, energy and skill set are a pretty close match.   

Let’s look at what the various projection systems envision Brett Lawrie doing this season:

RotoChamp 590 281 366 519 26 25 .238 .386
Fangraphs (Fans) 605 286 356 508 24 23 .222 .378
ZIPS 659 275 333 498 27 24 .223 .362
Bill James 628 284 337 495 22 30 .211 .361

 There isn’t a projection system out there that doesn’t foresee a monster season from Lawrie and at the very least a 20-20 effort.  It is funny that of the four listed above the notoriously optimistic Bill James has the lowest wOBA for Lawrie.  Most of the systems also have a BB% around 7.5-8.0 and a K% of 17.5-18.0.  This needs to be a continued focus for Lawrie if he hopes to take the next step towards superstardom.

I prefer both the ZIPS and Bill James slash lines and I think Lawrie will go through a few struggles as the league and its pitchers continue to adjust to him.  He was pretty beaten down by various injuries last season though some of them were of the fluke variety.   A lot of his success will be dependent on his ability to actually stay healthy and on the field all season or this exercise will be moot. 

If Lawrie can get 600+ plate appearances I would be comfortable to project 280/345/510 with 20+ HRs and 20+ SBs. 

Blue Jays fans are right to get excited about this kid, the future is bright.

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