Brett Lawrie has defied expectations before. The 19-year-old became the highest drafted Canadian position player ever when the Brewers pegged him with the 16th overall pick last June. He’s a rare Canadian hitter who bats righthanded. He already has switched positions, from catcher to second base. He was even a member of Canada’s most recent Olympic and World Baseball Classic teams.
Now he’s doing it again in the low Class A Midwest League. It would have been understandable if Lawrie had gotten off to a slow start. He’d never taken an at-bat in a professional game before opening the 2009 season with Wisconsin. The MWL is notoriously hard on young hitters, especially in the first half of the season, before temperatures warm up. None of those factors have slowed Lawrie, who’s torn up the league to the tune of a .326/.375/.616 line through 86 at-bats.
"He’s a special kid. He’s got that hit gene," Wisconsin manager Jeff Isom said. "He’s a lot of strides offensively. He’s a kid that’s going to find a way to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. You kinda just let him go and do his own thing. He’s swinging the bat well. He hits the ball hard, finds holes and drives the ball in the gap."
Lawrie is the youngest player on the Timber Rattlers’ roster, yet he leads the team in home runs (4) and RBIs (19) and is second in average while hitting third in the lineup every night. His .616 slugging percentage ranks fifth in the entire MWL, as 13 of his 28 hits on the season have gone for extra bases.
Lawrie brings an aggressive nature to the plate, but his pitch recognition is advanced enough that he doesn’t chase balls out of the zone. He’s only drawn seven unintentional walks on the season but has also limited his strikeouts to 14 in 24 games.
"He’s selective at the plate," Isom said. "When he gets a pitch he likes, he’s going to swing and he’s going to swing the bat hard. He’s doing a good job of making sure he’s swinging at strikes, that’s half the battle right there, and has been aggressive when he does find a pitch that he likes."
Lawire spearheaded the Rattlers’ offense again last night, helping the team break a three-game losing streak with a 2-0 win against Burlington. Lawire went 3-for-4 and drove in both Rattlers runs. He homered to left field off Bees starter Manauris Baez in the first inning, then added a two-out RBI single in the fifth.
Defensively, Isom has been impressed with Lawrie’s work ethic and coachability since moving from behind the plate to second base. He’s made five errors (three fielding, two throwing) in 24 games, but Isom is confident Lawrie will continue getting better, and he appears to have come a long way from his amateur days, when he was criticized for not taking his defense seriously.
"Seeing his first few games in spring training, I thought, ‘Wow, this could be interesting this season,’ " Isom said. "But he’s such a great athlete. He’s taken to it. He’s made himself into a pretty good second baseman.
"You see the improvement on a daily basis. What makes him so special is you can tell him what he’s doing wrong and then he adapts and changes right away. He applies everything that you say right away. You won’t have to tell him a second time, whether it’s positioning or the little nuances of the game. He makes adjustments on the fly, picks up things, retains information—and throw in he’s a great athlete. The kid’s done a great job and continues to improve daily."
Desmond Jennings has remained ridiculously hot for Double-A Montgomery. The 22-year-old outfielder went 2-for-3 with a triple and three RBIs as the Biscuits wiped out Birmingham 12-2. He looks like a pretty solid candidate to be No. 1 on this week’s Prospect Hot Sheet, having reeled off six straight multi-hit games to raise his line to .402/.429/.645 through 107 at-bats. He’s ranks among the Southern League leaders in myriad categories and leads the league in average, slugging, hits (43) and triples (5).
Blanks Makes His Case
Kyle Blanks is doing his best to spur the Padres to find an opening for him. The hulking 6-foot-6, 280 pound first baseman for Triple-A Portland went 3-for-4 with a home run in a 4-2 win against Colorado Springs last night. Blanks has homered in back-to-back games and four times in his last seven, giving him six on the year to go with 18 RBIs and a .318/.423/.568 line through 88 at-bats in his first crack at Triple-A.
Bees Make History
Elsewhere in the PCL, the Salt Lake Bees made history by becoming just the third team in league history to hit two grand slams in the same inning. Left fielder Brad Coon and catcher Bobby Wilson turned the trick in the fourth inning of a 13-0 win against Tacoma. Both shots came off reliever Steven Shell, who was making his first appearance for the Rainiers after having been released by the Nationals.