When Brett Lawrie made his major league debut in 2011, the baseball world was stunned by his performance.
But despite that, no one had expected the third baseman to hit .293/.373/.580 with 11 home runs, 25 runs driven in and 26 runs scored in just 43 games to close out the 2011 season.
He was also defensively sound at third base and made several highlight-reel plays at the hot corner that had not been seen in Toronto since Scott Rolen left town.
Aside from the stats he put up, the thing that excited a lot of fans about Lawrie was his unbridled energy and the raw emotions that he openly displayed on the field and bench.
Doing things like screaming after making big plays on the field or wildly high-fiving teammates after hitting a home run, Lawrie’s actions energized the team and made the games more exciting for fans to watch.
A lot of Lawrie’s highlight-reel plays came as a result of aggressiveness and his all-out play style. He ran into stands chasing fly balls and even invited home-plate collisions with catchers in order to make them drop the ball. Again, these plays only made everyone feel more excited by seeing Lawrie’s energy and fearlessness.
With a rookie season like that, short as it was, the Blue Jays fanbase was thrilled. It looked like they had the next franchise player on their hands. The fact that Lawrie was a Canadian representing the only major league baseball team in Canada made it all the more exciting.
Unfortunately, the ensuing two years haven’t been as kind to Lawrie as his rookie season was.
During that time, he’s been injured numerous times, suspended and has underperformed with the bat once pitchers began taking advantage of his lack of patience at the plate.
In 2013, Lawrie hit just .254/.315/.397 with 11 home runs, 41 runs scored and 46 runs driven in. He played just 107 games.
As Lawrie has struggled, the amount of criticism pointed at him has significantly increased.
His passion and energy that were once praised as positive qualities during his rookie season are now being derided by critics as arrogance, over-confidence and selfishness. His all-out style of play has been called reckless.
While it might be unfair to expect Lawrie to put up the same numbers that he did during his rookie season, 2014 would be a great year for Lawrie to at least put the disappointments of the past two seasons behind him and really take the next step into becoming a key part of the team.
The most important thing for Lawrie to do in order to have a breakout season is to properly focus his energy in the right direction, especially while at the plate.
Last season, there were times when Lawrie would step into the batter’s box visibly hyped up and animated. He would take violent swings at pitches well outside the strike zone regardless of the situation or the count.
A patient approach would be more beneficial to Lawrie. He had just 30 walks in 442 plate appearances last season, which shows that he was swinging at too many pitches rather than working the count.
Like many other hitters on the team, Lawrie was also trying to pull the ball a little too often rather than focusing on hitting the ball to all fields.
With the arrival of new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer who preaches a more balanced hitting style by encouraging players to work the count, make contact and hit the ball the other way, Lawrie’s numbers should go up if he buys into Seitzer’s system.
Aside from hitting, Lawrie also needs to tone down his aggressiveness while on defense. Doing things such as letting fly balls go rather than chasing them into the stands and avoiding excessive diving or slides in order to make risky plays will allow Lawrie to take better care of his body and prevent injuries.
A breakout year from Lawrie in 2014 would really help the Blue Jays contend and bounce back from a disappointing campaign last season.
While the team has some good players at the top of the lineup in Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus, the bottom of the lineup is significantly less reliable.
Aside from the light-hitting second baseman Ryan Goins, Melky Cabrera is coming off a down year, Adam Lind has struggled to hit left-handed pitchers and catcher Dioner Navarro hasn’t been a starter since 2009.
Simply put, the team needs Lawrie to realize his potential with the bat and act as a stabilizing force who can bridge the gap between the stronger and weaker parts of the lineup.
That would not only put more pressure on opposing pitchers, but it will also allow the team’s other stars to carry a lighter load.
Lawrie really needs a breakout season in 2014 not just to silence his steadily increasing number of critics who are convinced that his magical rookie season was a fluke, but also because his success will be integral to his team’s performance in the American League East.
All player stats are from Baseball-Reference.com.