The Leading Man
KISSIMMEE, Fla.--Now that was a line drive that would have made headlines.
Brett Lawrie, with his back to the plate, ducked at the last moment during batting practice today as a line drive from minor-league shortstop prospect Jonathan Diaz skimmed the top of his skull.
"Don't turn your back out there," barked batting coach Dwayne Murphy.
Of course, a bigger headline would have been if the Jays had decided to move Lawrie when, sources suggest the Seattle Mariners demanded him plus other assets in exchanged for starting pitcher Michael Pineda, who ultimately went to the New York Yankees.
But GM Alex Anthopoulos wasn't inclined to even consider such a move after only acquiring Lawrie last year in the same way Leafs GM Brian Burke was so reluctant to consider moving defenceman Jake Gardiner after only having him in that organization for a year following a trade from Anaheim.
Now, Lawrie isn't just a key component in the Jays attack, shown again today against Houston with an opposite field, first inning double that plated Eric Thames, and then a follow-up clean steal of third. In the third inning, Lawrie got even more aggressive, tagging up and taking second base on a fly ball to centre that fell short of the warning track. He then scored when the next hitter, David Cooper, singled to right.
That's the kind of aggression that can be contagious.
Lawrie is part of a young leadership group that is emerging to supplement Jose Bautista and pitcher Ricky Romero, a group that includes Lawrie and catcher J.P. Arencibia
"We're still in that phase where our core group of young players is expanding, and its not fully established yet," said manager John Farrell today before an exhibition game against Houston. "Hopefully at the end of this coming year that foundation, that base, will be that much more developed and formed, and that becomes the culture of the clubhouse.
"When this young group really gets to the point of molding together, then if there's an acquisition, you have less influence (from that player) because this young core has really taken hold of this team. A guy coming in from the outside has to fit with what is already here. There's a lot of thought that goes into building that group and what the clubhouse is like."
A year ago, the Jays were waiting to see if Adam Lind could play first, trying to identify a closer, figuring out who could hit leadoff and wondering if Aaron Hill could have a bounce back season. There were also players like Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel who didn't necessarily provide the clubhouse leadership the team was looking for.
Now, by comparison, its a lot more settled this spring despite the fact its a team of either inexperienced young players or newly established players, while the veterans added, from Sergio Santos to Darren Oliver, are considered to be more of the type of influences Farrell and Anthopoulos want.
"There were a lot more questions a year ago," said Farrell. "There were a lot more prominent
"Last year we were starting at ground level, this year I feel like we're starting at the second or third rung on the ladder. This is a talented group that feels its capable of accomplishing a lot," said Farrell. "That growth and that momentum is clearly headed in the right direction."
Just bring up Lawrie's name, meanwhile, and Farrell oozes enthusiasm.
"He's an exciting young player, one who believes in himself. . .He's the heartbeat of this team, even at an early age," said Farrell. "To me, leadership doesn't have an age attached to it. He can be vocal in the clubhouse. He's respectful for his teammates and respectful to the game. He's one heckuva player."
Farrell's waiting to see how Lawrie adjusts in his second year.
"Guess that remains to be seen. The one thing we saw in his 150 at-bats with us last year was his pitch recognition. When he stays with his strike zone and doesn't chase pitches, he can be a hitter with some impact on the game.
"He believes he's going to hit. He believes he's going to play well."