Thursday, June 05, 2008

Lawrie taken 16th overall

Langley baseball star Brett Lawrie, recently the primary subject of a feature in this space, was picked 16th overall [TSN] by the Milwaukee Brewers in this afternoon's Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. That's the highest a Canadian position player has ever been taken: the previous record was 27th overall, established by Kevin Nicholson, a shortstop from Surrey, B.C. who went to the San Diego Padres in 1997. Only six Canadians have ever been taken in the first round: the others are my old high-school acquaintance Adam Loewen (pitcher, fourth overall to the Baltimore Orioles in 2002), Jeff Francis (pitcher, ninth overall to the Colorado Rockies in 2002), Phillipe Aumont (pitcher, 11th overall to the Seattle Mariners in 2007) and Scott Thorman (infielder, 30th overall to the Atlanta Braves in 2000). Lawrie's been getting some very high praise: here's a sampling of it.

- Shi Davidi, The Canadian Press

"Scouts rave about his raw power and some believe he may be the most advanced hitter at age 18 in the country's history. But it's the intangibles that really seem to set him apart, what one described as "the ridiculous fearlessness" he shows on the field and a relentless competitive drive to dominate.
"You could put this kid in a stadium with 50,000 people and tell him he's facing Josh Beckett tomorrow and he'd smile and think, 'I'm going to get Josh Beckett,"' said one executive who has watched Lawrie play extensively. "At this point he probably won't but he'll go up there, not be intimidated, take his swings and look good doing it. He's got no fear. Period."
Added another scout from a team thinking of drafting Lawrie: "He's consistently hit at a high level the past three years. He's definitely got good raw power and the ability to make consistent contact. His bat is very advanced."
So advanced, in fact, that he's being considered for Canada's Olympic roster.

- Jeremy Sandler, National Post:

[F]ew prospects draw favourable comparisons to such former big-league MVPs as Larry Walker and Justin Morneau.
"Larry was by far the best player that had ever walked into the [BCPL]," [Langley Blaze coach Doug] Mathieson said. "Larry was a true five-tool player and I'd say Brett is the next Larry Walker.
"Justin Morneau was a dominant player in our league, he hit more home runs, but he wasn't the all-around athlete that Brett was."
Though [Toronto Blue Jays' director of Canadian scouting Kevin] Briand never saw Walker play, he said Lawrie is as good a player he has seen in 20 years of scouting in Canada.
"His performance in the past year-and-a-half is right up there with the Justin Morneaus," said Briand. "He has just stood out."
(square brackets mine)

- Terry Bell, Vancouver Province:

"Yeah. Just a little Canadian guy playing his game. Try selling that one to Kansas City Royals pitchers Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies. Lawrie faced both of them when the Blaze did their annual tour in Arizona in March.
'They brought out Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar to pitch against us and Brett hit doubles against both of them,' said Blaze coach Doug Mathieson.
'Kyle was throwing 90-91 m.p.h. His first pitch was a fastball. Brett took it for a ball. The second pitch was a changeup and Brett hit it off the wall. Davies kind of looked around and said, 'Excuse me.'
'Then, about the fourth inning they brought out Hochevar. First pitch fastball, bang, right off the centre-field wall. The next pitch he stole third.'
Hochevar's in the Royals rotation. Davies is in the minors after going 7-15 with Atlanta and the Royals in 2007."

-Rob Iracane, on Walkoff Walk's liveblog of the draft:

"16. Milwaukee Brewers - Brett Lawrie C, Canadia: Raw pull power and a cannon from behind the plate. He has quickness but needs to work on advanced catching skills like blocking and farting on the umpire. Our friend from the North was interviewed by Marc Hulet. Kid's probably sorry to not be drafted by the Blue Jays, thus subjecting his salary to the weak US dollar. Four catchers in the top 16!"

- Summary from Lawrie's Draft Report:

"Scouting Canadian players can sometimes be difficult because of the lack of opportunity to see them. But scouts know all about Lawrie and his plus power potential, something he's been able to show off while playing for the Langley Blaze in British Columbia. What they don't know is where he can play, though he's shown the tools -- raw though they may be -- to handle being a catcher. It may take a while, but putting that bat behind the plate could one day make him a premium player."

Very impressive praise. Sure, we'll have to wait and see how he develops, particularly on the catching end, but Russell Martin's been doing all right there, and he only switched to the position after junior college. A catcher who can smack the ball the way Lawrie can? That's got to have people salivating over memories of Mike Piazza. Getting that kind of hitting and power with even decent defense behind the plate is a great combination.

An interesting tidbit is that Lawrie's sister Danielle pitches on the Canadian softball team and will be competing for gold in Beijing this summer, along with teammate Lauren Bay-Regula (Jason Bay's sister). Men's baseball obviously gets far more attention than women's softball, but as someone who worked as a softball umpire for five years and handled some of the highest-level minor ball, I can tell you that those players are incredibly talented as well. This neat anecdote from Bell's story shows that the baseball skills run in the family:

"Danielle won't be in Langley today. She's in Oklahoma City with Team Canada but she has a deal with her coach so she can see the draft on ESPN.
'It is exciting,' she said Tuesday when asked about her brother's rise. 'I've been kind of following it here and there. I've been busy but my dad keeps me updated. I went on the [Baseball Canada] website to follow how he was doing in the Dominican.'
And just like her Team Canada teammate Lauren Bay-Regula and her brother Jason Bay of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Lawries get asked that one question ... who'd win if they faced off?
'We've never tested that out,' she said. 'He'd catch for me at home and I'd joke around and say, 'Oh, you wouldn't be able to hit it.' But I know that kid has crazy bat speed so I think he'd be able to get a fly ball on a couple. But he ain't hittin' them outta the park, that's for sure.'
'I think I could give her a run for her money,' Brett said with a laugh.
So dad gets the final word.
'She'd put one right under his chin and then try to break his back with a change-up,' Russ laughed. 'I know her. They have a great rivalry.'
Not to mention great futures."

One more note: it sounds like Lawrie was all set to go even higher, according to Bob Elliott's sources. As Elliott wrote this morning, "Canadian infielder Brett Lawrie will go seventh overall this afternoon in Major League Baseball's annual draft of high-schoolers and collegians.
Barring a last-minute change, the Cincinnati Reds are set to select the Langley, B.C., native if the draft falls the way they want it to. "
Instead, the Reds took first baseman Yonder Alonso, who's also seen primarily as a hitter.

From MLB's draft report on Alonso: It can be quite a debate over which college first baseman should go first on Draft day. Alonso is a hitter, period, with a great approach and power, especially the other way right now. Defensively, he's no great shakes, but it's that bat that teams will dream about putting in the middle of their lineup to produce plenty of runs in the future.

I'm guessing what must have happened here is the Reds were looking for a pure hitter and had Alonso ranked above Lawrie, but were sure he'd be taken before the draft got to their slot. Some people had him above seventh in mock drafts, some just below. Thus, when he fell to them, they must have decided to jump that way and leave Lawrie. However, Baseball America's John Manuel thought it was unusual: he was expecting them to take shortstop Gordon Beckham, who went to the White Sox with the next pick.

"Not so fast my friend.
Gordon Beckham is NOT going to Cincinnati. The Reds took Yonder Alonso in something of a surprise, but Alonso is a heck of a hitter. He’s short to the ball, quick through the zone and has a polished approach. This really is the first case where a team took a college first baseman and decided he was just too good to ignore, no matter that they have a young first baseman in Joey Votto. But Votto has played left field in the past and some scouts believe he actually could be better defensively in left field. Alonso might be part of a post-Adam Dunn team in Cincinnati and should go off in the Great American Ballpark. Now the big question is for the White Sox — Smoak or Gordon Beckham?

You can bet the Brewers are happy Elliott's prediction didn't come true: according to Jim Callis' mock draft at Baseball America, he was the guy they wanted all along, but they weren't sure he'd still be available. As Callis writes, "The Brewers would love Lawrie and until last night didn't think he had much of a chance to last 16 picks. If he doesn't, they'll have to react to whomever falls, possibly Wallace and more likely Friedrich. Milwaukee had been rumored to be interested in a college reliever to help shore up its big league bullpen, but that's not a priority here." He also correctly predicted the Brewers taking Lawrie. As Manuel wrote on the Baseball America draft blog, Lawrie could be a bit of a steal even, considering the resources the Brewers put into Canadian scouting.

When’s the last time we got the Brewers right? But here, we did, with the Brewers making Lawrie the top-drafted Canadian hitter ever. No one scouts Canada as aggressively as the Brewers and they’ve seen Lawrie well against their team in extended spring training. So if Lawrie can catch, and hit like scouts think he can, he could be a tremendous value at 16.

Update: Gary Ahuja and John Gordon at the Langley Times have some excellent related content, including this main piece, a short piece on Brett and Danielle, and a video interview.

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