Prospect Week: The Brett Lawrie hype-machine

The hype surrounding top-prospect call-ups can send fantasy GMs into a frenzy. This happens for a couple of reasons: One, because most fans don’t watch these players play everyday, they only get reports or a glimpse at minor league stats, both of which can be deceiving. Two, the grass is always greener on the other side. Edwin Encarnacion is hitting .247/.270/.349 with only one home run compared to Lawrie, who’s numbers look like they came from “World Series Baseball” (it was easy to hit home runs in that game). Lawrie is currently hitting .354/.413/.667 with 15 home runs in 250 plate appearances.

“Should I drop player “x” for Brett Lawrie?”

Sometimes these are easy calls, but many times the discussion involves a player that cost a pretty penny on draft day. With that in mind, is the hype-machine causing Lawrie to be a bit overrated?

Let’s start by looking at what Lawrie does well. When he was drafted 16th overall by the Brewers in the 2008 amateur draft, it was for his offensive potential regardless of where he would eventually end up in the field. The Brewers moved him out from behind the dish immediately, making him a second baseman, hoping perhaps that he would evolve into Rickie Weeks part-two. Lawrie hit .274/.348/.454 with 13 home runs and 19 stolen bases over 423 plate appearances in his first professional action (single-A), giving all a glimpse of his 20/20 potential. Last season while at double-A, Lawrie ended with a similar line of .285/.346/.449, but with fewer home runs (eight) and more stolen bases (30) in 609 plate appearances. The eight home runs may look like a disappointing number, but keep in mind that Lawrie had 35 doubles and 16 triples that season as a 20-year-old. This season, the power has flourished big-time. While he is indeed playing in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, his power numbers can’t all be chalked up to the environment around him. After all, this — the development of his power game — is what was expected to happen when he was drafted in the first round three years ago.

However, at the ripe age of 21, can we really expect big things from Lawrie right away at the big league level? The fine analysts at Project Prospect have spent a good deal of time breaking down Lawrie’s game and while the consensus is that he’s a well below average defensive infielder (information that is widely known at this point), there is more than one opinion about how his swing will translate against big-league pitching.

Mike Diaz of Project Prospect recently gave his scouting report on Lawrie, writing, “Lawrie has elite bat speed caused by tremendous strength in his hands and wrists. Lawrie whips the bat through the zone, staying through the baseball while using the whole field.”

“There is a ton of movement at the plate with Lawrie. He often comes out of his swing, causing his eye level to change, which can lead to problems seeing the ball. He also has a hitch in his load, but he can compensate that movement with his top notch bat speed.”

In this article, Project Prospect’s Steve Carter “…described Lawrie as a bit of a front-foot hitter…Lawrie doesn’t sit back and wait for the ball to get deep in the zone. He attacks it once it’s within striking distance.”

Adam Foster followed up by noting that Lawrie “…is hitting from a more upright stance this spring than years past, however, a change that could help him improve his power and contact rate. He had been hitting from a deep crouch, limiting his ability to get his hips through the ball. He’d also pop up as he swung, which can make it difficult to track the ball.”

Personally my biggest concern comes from the fact that Lawrie does shift his weight noticeably  forward during his swing, which could leave him off balance against good breaking balls. If he can maintain balance and bat speed, however, that weight shift won’t be too big of an issue. It can, in fact, help him generate plus-power.

Physically, Lawrie is ready. He’s build like a brick house, well filled out for a 21-year-old. His athleticism alone should help him overcome what may be some mechanical glitches.

The bottom line is that if Brett Lawrie gets the call to the big leagues, his power/speed upside is worth taking a flier on in just about any format. While I don’t see him hitting for much AVG right away, he should hit for some power and steal plenty of bases, especially with the way the Jays have been letting loose on the base-paths under manager John Farrell. His stolen base value might actually outweigh his power output this season. Lawrie should also carry 2B/3B eligibility before long in all formats, which helps add to his potential value.

Eyeball rest-of-season projection (assuming he’s called-up withing a week or so): 400 PA, .262/.331/.450, 11 HR, 16 SB