What do Austin Jackson, Gordon Beckham, Chris Coghlan, Jason Heyward and Geovany Soto all have in common? Each player had a terrific rookie season, but was unable to duplicate their success the following season. In other words, they all failed to elude the dreaded sophomore slump.
After being called up by the Toronto Blue Jays on August 4, Brett Lawrie batted .293, smacked nine home runs and had 25 RBI in just 43 games and 150 at bats.
As of April 19, he is off to a solid start. In 11 games he’s hitting .295 with two home runs and eight RBI.
He could be poised for a strong 2012 campaign if his spring training is an indication of things to come. In 16 games, the 22-year-old batted a remarkable .524 (22/42), while 10 of his 22 hits went for extra bases (eight doubles and two triples). He also showcased his good speed by swiping five bags.
Here are 10 ways to defeat the possibility of a sophomore slump.
Lawrie will be charged with his share of errors (he's committed two at this point) during the course of the season and at times will fail to execute at the plate. If he is to have success, it will be vital for him to separate his defensive blunders from his plate appearances.
Although he played well defensively after his call up, he averaged an error or misplay every 21 innings (the league average was one in 30 innings).
If he posts similar numbers in the field, could it affect him at the plate?
If he can carry over his approach to the plate from last season, then it might not be a problem. If he cannot duplicate his success then his struggles could become an issue.
So far, he has been slotted sixth or seventh in the batting order. If players hitting ahead of him can consistently get on base then the opposition will have to challenge him, which should give him quality pitches to hit.
“In my family, we love hard, we fight hard, we play hard,” he stated in an interview with CBC Sports. “I mean pretty much everything we do is to the max. Our family’s pretty competitive."
“We’re always one big family at the end of everything, but we do everything hard and we’re very respectful of one another and we’ve got each others’ backs — our whole family does — and we love hard and we play hard just the way it sounds.”
He has brought that attitude to the field as well.
In the second game of the season against the Cleveland Indians, he connected for a big hit off Ubaldo Jimenez—who at that point had stymied the Jays, which tied the game 2-2. He would later cross the plate in the 12th inning helping the Jays take the lead for good in their second straight 7-4 victory over the Indians.
“I get out of the way. He’s on a dead sprint into the bat rack,” said manager John Farrell in reference to Lawrie’s charge toward the dugout. “You stand clear.”
Apparently he celebrates hard as well.
There are peaks and valleys for every player during the course of the season. He must stay focused during slumps and try not to do too much as pressing could create bad habits.
Doing so might alter his swing or psychological approach at the plate.
He was philosophical when discussing soon to be 45-year-old Omar Vizquel who is entering his 24th season.
“We’ve got a guy on our team that has spent more time in the big leagues than I have lived my whole life,” he said. “When I look at it that way, I say he’s got to have something that can help me."
Visquel has been around a long time and could be a valuable source of knowledge on and off the field. He has been durable during his career, and if Lawrie plans on playing into his late 30s or early 40s, then he may want to learn how Vizqual has taken care of his body.
Although his best days are behind him, Vizquel has seen just about everything. The 22-year-old can only get better by listening to anything the veteran has to say, which could be invaluable information that stays with him for the rest of his career.
Last season, he was held to a .205 average (8-for-39) when he fell behind in the count. On the flip side, he hit at a .388 clip (14-for-36) when he worked the count to his favor.
He could give the opposition fits with his bat and speed if he can regularly work the count to his advantage.
He has been compared to Hall of Fame players such as Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, George Brett, Paul Molitor and Pete Rose (who should be), and his name has also been linked to current superstars Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez who will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez sees similar qualities in Lawrie that he saw in former teammate and 13-time All-Star George Brett.
“When I compare Lawrie with Brett, I don’t throw that around very lightly. George is one of the greatest ballplayers I’ve ever seen,” he said. “What I mean is, Brett Lawrie plays the game the same way George Brett played. Like it’s his last day on earth and he’s never going to get to play baseball again."
“Physically, he has better talent than George, if you can believe it. Better speed, power, strength, absolutely. George played better than his skills. He had the greatest commitment I’d ever seen from anybody. He hit a ground ball, he expected it would be a double. He hit a double he expected it to be a triple. If he got four hits, he expected to get five. That’s the way he approached the game. That’s why he has 3,000 hits, three batting titles, a World Series ring. I don’t say this cavalierly about Lawrie. When I see him, he has that same attitude. No matter what he does, he wants to do more."
J.D Drew was highly regarded at one time and though he had solid career—.278 average, 242 HR, 795 RBI in 1,566 games played, did he meet expectations?
There is no doubting Lawrie’s ability, but he cannot allow himself to get caught up in all the buzz and excitement that he’s generated. If he is to succeed, he will need to dismiss such distractions and let the chips fall where they may.
During the course of the season, pitchers will frequently alter their approach and look for new ways to get him out. They will attack him inside or pitch him outside, challenge him with their fastball, or work him with their off-speed stuff.
If they are successful then it will be up to Lawrie to figure out opposition’s game plan and rework his strategy at the plate.
The game of cat and mouse will continue throughout the season.
He is a high energy player who consistently plays aggressive in all aspects of the game. What’s not to like about that?
Sometimes that style of play does not always go as planned.
On April 14, in a game against the Baltimore Orioles, he was caught trying to steal home in the second inning with the bases loaded –a game the Jays would go on the lose 6-4.
"I thought it was a point in the game where I could try and help my teammates out and it ended up working against me," he said. "I've just got to learn from it and move on to next time."
There is no doubt that he will make his share of mistakes. Although his gamble failed to pay off, it is admirable that he was trying to make something happen for his team-to be a difference maker, which is the type of player that you can always win with.
"I don't have any regrets about that situation but at the same time I never want to take the bat out of Jose's hands," he said. "Especially in that situation with the bases loaded and one of the best hitters in the game up."
He will need to do a better job of picking his spots.
"When a pitcher is in a prolonged inning and when you're running up the pitch count, we don't want to give away an out on the basepaths, which that was the case," stated manger John Farrell. "And particularly early in the game, where we've got a chance to put a really crooked number on the board."
Had he been successful with his stolen base attempt would anyone have been upset? No. The play would have then been described as “fearless” or “gusty”.
Staying healthy could be his biggest challenge this season (and possibly throughout his career) because of the way he plays.
“I play the game hard and whatever happens happens,” he said “It’s when you stop playing the game hard and do things at a different speed than you usually do them is when things go wrong. So I just go out there and play the game like I always play it.”
His all out style could threaten his health as he may open himself to potential injuries. For Brett Lawrie, playing injury-free will be the most important key to overcoming the risk of a sophomore slump.