Spring Lessons Launch Breakout For Laird

With older brother Gerald in his eighth season in the major leagues, Brandon Laird has seen the work ethic and dedication needed to make it to baseball's highest level.

But for the Trenton third baseman to truly understand what he needed to do if he wanted to join his brother, he needed to spend spring training working in big league camp.

As Laird, 22, prepared to join the defending World Series-champion Yankees in spring training, his former Rookie-level Gulf Coast League manager and current organizational defensive coordinator Jody Reed gave him some advice: Keep your mouth shut, listen and watch.

Then he asked Laird to report back on what he had seen.

Reed, who spent 11 years in the big leagues as a second baseman, already knew what Laird would see, but he wanted to see if the young slugger could figure it out on his own.

"He got to spend a lot of time over there because of all the split-squad games," Reed said. "So when he came back he told me, 'The one thing I never fully realized is just how hard those guys work every single day. I just smiled and told him, 'Exactly! Now are you ready to work that hard?' "

Breakout Season

Always a threat to leave the yard, Laird was having his most impressive offensive season yet. In 367 at-bats, Laird already had 19 home runs and was hitting .295/.337/.496.

Laird has transformed himself from a player some scouts viewed primarily as an organizational role player into a potential big league regular for some teams.

When the Yankees selected Laird in the 27th round of the 2007 draft out of Cypress (Calif.) JC, the one thing they knew he did well was hit for power. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, Laird was strong and could drive the ball well.

It was also no secret that he was going to need a lot of refinement. Even Laird admitted that he was out of shape and a bit of a free swinger. He was also a well-below-average third baseman defensively because of his lack of flexibility and overall athleticism.

Just how much work did Laird need in the field when he arrived in the GCL?

"A lot," Reed said bluntly. "The first thing we had to do was stress upon him the importance of playing defense. Some kids are told throughout their careers that if they hit, the team will find a spot for them. But that doesn't happen at the major league level."

Recognizing he needed to improve his body, Laird went on a diet and started working out harder in the offseason, slowly improving his athleticism and flexibility.

"I had always been a hitter. Everywhere I played that's what I did best," Laird said. "But working on my defense is just as important a job. I am focused on becoming an all-around player. I want to get to the big leagues any way I can, and I know that by getting a complete game I can do it faster."

Finding A Home

Still in just his fourth professional season, Laird is prone to mistakes. In 86 games at third this season, Laird had 16 errors. Reed said those mistakes are a result of the constant struggle for any young player to remained focused on every single pitch.

Still, there are some scouts who think he is better suited for first base. Considering the Yankees already have a pretty good third and first base combination with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, the organization has tested him out as a corner outfielder, an experiment Laird embraces.

"I really like the idea. The more positions I can play the more value I have to the team," Laird said. "I played some right field in high school. Of course, it was weird to take fly balls in the outfield off the bat, but I feel comfortable out there and could be good at it if I keep working at it."

The more obvious reason for Laird to switch positions would be to find a place for his bat, which is the primary reason Laird has become such an intriguing prospect. His renewed commitment to working out also resulted in the addition of 15 pounds of muscle, adding to Laird's already impressive raw power.

While a high strikeout-to-walk ratio (77-to-29) was a concern, Laird's swing has come a long way since he left college. Thanks, of course, to his continued work to refine it.

"The one thing he could do well coming out of college was swing the bat, but it wasn't sophisticated," Yankees vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said.

"His strike-zone discipline has really improved and he has made huge strides. Once he realized he had a chance to become a good player, he started working harder and changed his whole game."

Laird still faces an uphill climb if he is going to join his brother in the big league ranks. The game will never come as easy to Laird as it does to some other prospects. As one pro scout with an American League organization put it, Laird "doesn't do anything pretty."

But since taking infield practice this spring next to players like Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, Laird finally knows exactly what he needs to do to hurdle those shortcomings.

"I have always started slow these last couple years and I think it's because I was a little nervous and was really trying to overachieve," Laird said.

"Now I am more relaxed and confident. I know that I got to where I am today because I worked hard. Every year I think I have been progressing and I am just going to keep working to get to the big leagues because that is where I want to be."