Lawrie's mature approach on display this spring
Blue Jays third baseman proactive in seeking advice, tips on improving swing
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Brett Lawrie is only 24 years old, but this seems to be the spring that he has started to talk and act like a Major League ballplayer.
The previously headstrong Lawrie has begun to embrace his surroundings. He's reaching out to teammates for advice and going into his daily hitting drills with a defined game plan.
There has always been a hope in the Blue Jays' organization that Lawrie would eventually mature and settle into his role as a cornerstone of the team. The uncertain part was when that mentality would take hold, and it appears as though the time has arrived.
"He's grown up -- he's still a young man, but he's maturing; he's getting a little bit older and that's normally what happens," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "The experience has taught him a lot of things at this level and he's starting to settle in and feel like he belongs.
"You can have all the talent in the world, but until you establish yourself, and you've had some success, there's always some doubt in there. But once you think, you know what, I can play at this level, start having some success and feel like I belong. That does wonders for guys."
The transformation began during the final stages of the 2013 season. Lawrie had just gone through a first half of injuries sidetracking him, but even when he was on the field, the results weren't up to par.
Lawrie hit just .204 with a .261 on-base percentage in 39 games prior to the All-Star break. He had difficulty driving the ball with any kind of authority and opposing pitchers were taking advantage of his aggressiveness in the batter's box.
It was clear that some adjustments needed to be made. Lawrie started to look at the game in a different way, picking the brains of veterans like Mark DeRosa and Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion ran Lawrie through his routine of preparing for each day's starting pitcher. The personal tutelage included what to look for in the pregame video, how to approach each at-bat and how to force the opposing pitcher into Lawrie's preferred zone. It sounds simple, but it was a necessary learning curve for a player who had never dealt with true frustration in his career until reaching the big league level.
"When you come up through the Minor Leagues, nobody knows you, so you're going to have some success," Lawrie said. "It's your first time against them, and it's obviously their first time against you. It's kind of flip a coin as to what will happen.
"After time, everybody gets to know one another and you have to find another way to skin the cat. You always have to keep adjusting. So that was the biggest thing, adjusting on the fly and looking for another way to get it done and using my teammates, hearing them out."
Lawrie also became more open to the idea of changing things with his swing. Former Blue Jays hitting coach Chad Mottola got Lawrie to stand more upright and tried to quiet his movements in the batter's box.
Lawrie has always been a hyperactive player, which used to be evident in the way he approached each at-bat. There were a lot of moving parts in his swing. He would wiggle his bat back and forth as the pitcher went into his wind-up, and there was a last-second hitch before Lawrie would load up for the swing.
That created issues with his timing at the plate. When Lawrie began to iron out a few of those problems, the positive results quickly followed. Lawrie hit .283 with a .346 on-base percentage after the All-Star break. There is more work to be done, but what's important is that new Blue Jays hitting coach Kevin Seitzer didn't have to approach Lawrie about continuing those adjustments. In fact, it was the other way around.
"He told me right out of the gate, that was his focus the last month and a half when he started to have some success," Seitzer said. "For me, that's the hardest part -- getting guys to buy into the adjustments they need to make in order to be good.
"He has so much in there, so much hand speed, short swing. Just [need] to get him to quiet down and get all of that waggle out of there. He's quiet in his setup -- he's much better there -- but when he goes to load and start to fire, that's when things get a little too out of whack. He has made huge strides in the last two weeks that I've been here. That's where his focus is. We're eating this elephant one bite at a time, and my focus is Opening Day to where he's dialing in."
The sky still seems to be the limit for Lawrie. He's a five-tool player with plenty of untapped power, and he eventually could become the face of the franchise. For the immediate future, with almost all of the focus on Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Encarnacion, it's Lawrie who has a chance to become one of the wild cards in Toronto's lineup.
In order to do that, Lawrie will need to stay healthy and continue making those in-game adjustments. The Blue Jays hope that Lawrie will keep a middle ground between being confident in his ways and being open to advice.
"Most of your great players are stubborn guys," Gibbons said. "They believe in what they're doing, they have confidence in the way they do things and they've always been successful. A lot of times, that's a good thing. Sometimes the guys that have the most trouble are the guys that are too coachable, because they'll listen to everybody and their brother.
"Now they get confused and can't remember what they did to begin with. I think generally you'll find that, your stubborn guys are usually your better players. But it gets to the point where if things aren't going the way you like it, or are underachieving, that's usually when they break down a little bit and look for some advice."