NEWS
02/26/2012 05:23 EST | Updated 04/27/2012 05:12 EDT

Believe the Hype: Jays third baseman Lawrie ready to build on solid rookie year

DUNEDIN, Fla. - It's not hard to tell when Canadian Brett Lawrie is on the field at the Toronto Blue Jays' spring training complex.

He's a bundle of energy waiting to burst with a spring in his step that makes you take notice. Tattoos run up and down his muscle-packed arms and he's not afraid to speak his mind.

The 22-year-old native of Langley, B.C., injected a blast of enthusiasm when he made his debut with the Blue Jays last August. Lawrie also showed that the can't-miss prospect tag was applied to him for a reason.

He hit the cover off the ball during his 43-game run with the Blue Jays. Over 150 at-bats, the third baseman hit nine homers, eight doubles, four triples and had a .293 average to go with 25 RBIs.

Toronto fans are drooling about what might be possible over a full season.

"When he doesn't chase off-speed pitches out of the strike zone, he is as dangerous a hitter (as there is) I think in the American League," manager John Farrell said Sunday. "That's a pretty strong statement. But in a short period of time, we saw an explosive player."

Lawrie nearly made the team last spring but instead started the year with triple-A Las Vegas. He likely would have been called up in May had he not been hit by a pitch that broke his left hand.

When he finally got his chance, Lawrie took full advantage. He had two hits and drove in a run in his debut and never looked back.

"He was great when he came up and played for us," said Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos. "Defensively, offensively, everything he brings, great teammate. And I thought the quality of his at-bats was outstanding.

"That being said, I don’t think it’s fair to take the stats he had last year and try to pro-rate them over 500 at-bats. That’s probably not going to happen. But I think the production we got out of the position just as a whole, we can only go up from there. That can only improve."

Lawrie has always been the confident type and he's certainly not lacking now that he's tabbed to be the everyday guy at third base. He's an electric character on the hot corner — even during the breezy opening weekend of full-squad workouts at camp.

"He's a complete player, he's got an infectious attitude," Farrell said. "He might rub some people the wrong way, but within our clubhouse we love the energy."

It's not hard to ease into things given the setting of palm trees and Florida sunshine. But there's no going through the motions here.

Lawrie attacks grounders with a vengeance. His throws have so much zip the balls seem to whistle before they smack the first baseman's glove.

Shake the hand of the taut six-foot, 215-pounder and you have to extend your fingers to make sure they're not broken. While the intensity level is always on maximum, he has learned not to overdo it.

"There's always work to be done," Lawrie said. "I'm working every day just to get ready for the 162-game grind. I'm just going to try to be smart. It's about being healthy, what I can do to keep myself healthy.

"Knowing when to really go and knowing when to kind of just hold my own and relax a little bit."

Milwaukee drafted Lawrie 16th overall in 2008. It was the highest pick for a Canadian position player in MLB amateur draft history.

The Brewers shipped him to Toronto in December 2010 for pitcher Shaun Marcum. While it was tough to give up the team's ace, Anthopoulos was convinced the youngster was the real deal.

Lawrie would have all-star numbers if he kept up his 2011 pace for a full season. However, both Anthopoulos and Farrell want to keep the expectations in check ahead of the 2012 campaign.

"I'm cautiously optimistic because I just know from experience with young players that they don’t always just hit the ground running and don’t stop," Anthopoulos said. "The league will have to adjust to him. He’ll have to adjust back."

In the meantime, expect Lawrie to keep performing in his own inimitable fashion.

"I'm just that fiery player," he said. "It's just always been inside of me. It's just who I am."