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Ferguson: Is Lawrie ready to finally fulfill his potential?

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Scott Ferguson
2/21/2014 11:27:14 AM
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When Brett Lawrie arrived with the Blue Jays in 2011, he looked even at age 21 to have the raw potential to become one of the franchise's greats. In a 43-game stint, he batted .293 with nine homers and 25 runs batted in with a .953 OPS. He played spectacular defence and seemed to have a skill for pumping up his teammates and electrifying the crowd. You had to ask yourself how Milwaukee let him get away in that trade for right hander Shaun Marcum?

But in the last two seasons, Lawrie has gone through some growing pains. He's had injury problems, some awkward in-game moments, such as throwing a batting helmat in the direction of an ump, and the berating of a teammate for a perceived miscue on the bases. (Lawrie was wrong). On top of that his production has dropped off, to the point where some have wondered if that blaze of glory in his first stint with the club was a fluke or a flash in the pan.

The thing to remember is, Brett Lawrie is only 24. Skipper John Gibbons suggested this week that Brett's peak performance years could still be a couple of seasons away.

If you go by a couple of third basemen from the Blue Jays' past, Gibbons may well be right. Kelly Gruber spent nine years with the Jays, hitting .259 with 114 homers, 439 runs batted in and 80 stolen bases. He was stolen away from Cleveland in the Rule 5 draft and spent his first couple of years as a Jack-of-all-trades utility man before becoming the primary third baseman in 1987. At age 24 for the Jays he hit just .196 with five homers and 15 runs batted in. It took until 1990 for him to have a star impact season. At 28 years old, he hit .274 with 31 homers and 118 RBI's. Gruber was still the starting third sacker for a division title run in 1991 and for the Jays' first World Series victory over Atlanta in 1992.

Ed Sprague offers up another example of a player who peaked in his late 20's. Sprague was the Jays' regular third baseman for six seasons. After Gruber was moved to the Angels, Sprague took over at third in 1993 at 26. He hit .260 with 12 homers and 73 runs batted in and was a key member of the Jays second straight World Series victory over the Phillies in 1993. Still he didn't have his first really big year until he was 29, when he broke through with 36 homers and drove in 101 runs.

Yes there are exceptions to the rule...guys who hit the ground running and continue to thrive practically from the moment they arrive in the Majors. Two of those kind of guys enjoyed brief stints with the Blue Jays in the last decade.

Troy Glaus came over from the Diamondbacks along with Sergio Santos in a deal for right hander Miguel Batista and infielder Orlando Hudson. Glaus played third for the Jays for two seasons in 2006 and 2007. As a 22-year-old with his original club the Angels, he hit .240 with 29 homers and 79 runs batted in. At 24 with the Halos, he upped his power numbers to 41 homers and 108 runs batted in.

Glaus had a good year with the Jays in '06, but his numbers fell off a bit in 2007, and he ultimately asked for a trade since the artificial turf at Rogers Centre was playing havoc with his back.

The Jays dealt Glaus to St. Louis for another standout third baseman in Scott Rolen, who had had a falling out with Cards manager Tony LaRussa.

As a 22-year-old with his original club the Phillies, Rolen - arguably the best defensive third baseman the Jays have ever had - hit .283 with 21 homers and 92 runs batted in. Rolen only spent one season with the Jays, at age 33 before asking for a trade to the U.S. midwest to be closer to his family. He wound up going to Cincinnati in a deal that saw the Jays land two pitchers, Zach Stewart and Josh Roenicke and a guy named Edwin Encarnacion.

The point of all this is, Lawrie is still young enough to take off the way Rolen and Glaus did, or he may take a little longer like Gruber or Sprague. If you want to pipe dream a bit, consider Royals legendary Hall of Famer George Brett. At 24 he batted .312 with 22 homers and 88 runs batted in.

The bottom line on Lawrie is, with the defence he plays, and the infectious hustle he plays with, the Blue Jays will be very patient with him indeed. The real Brett Lawrie could even emerge this season, if only he can stay healthy.

Spring Roots

The Blue Jays may not be leaving their spring training home in Dunedin after all. About a year ago a story first surfaced that the Houston Astros were talking with the Jays about teaming up with them on a new two-team state of the art facility in Palm Beach County on Florida's east coast. The Astros' lease with Kissimmee, Florida runs through 2016, so the target date for moving obviously would have been 2017.

However a local group of citizens didn't want any part of having this type of complex in their area and threatened a lawsuit. So now the Astros are looking elsewhere in Palm Beach County and are now talking with the Washington Nationals about being their potential partners.

Brett Lawrie (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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