Lawrie's move to second working out
Drafted as catcher, Crew prospect finding way at new position
MILWAUKEE -- Runners at second and third base, nobody out and your team is trying to hold a two-run lead. You're playing second base and a hard chopper is hit your way.The correct play is to first base, for the sure out. Brett Lawrie, the Brewers' second base prospect, pivoted and fired to third. "He threw the guy out at third base, and it was like, 'Holy mackerel!'" said Brewers farm director Reid Nichols, who was in the stands in Appleton, Wis., that April day for a game between Lawrie's Wisconsin Timber Rattlers and the Peoria Chiefs. "It was a bad decision," Nichols said, "but it was a good play." So continues the education of the 19-year-old Lawrie, who is hoping to be the next Prince Fielder or Rickie Weeks or Ryan Braun, all former first-rounders now drawing big league paychecks in Milwaukee. Lawrie was the 16th pick overall in last year's First-Year Player Draft, the top Canadian pick in history, and he was a catcher then. Over the offseason, he decided to switch to second. The Brewers approved, though the move has been mostly panned outside the organization. Nichols, not exactly known for throwing around unwarranted praise, has a radically different take. "I didn't think he could do it," said Nichols, who has overseen Milwaukee's Minor League affiliates since November 2002. "And I certainly didn't think he could do it this quickly. "But he has good range, good hands. I have been pleasantly surprised." Considering Nichols' usually low-key assessment of even the hottest of prospects, that qualifies as a ringing endorsement of Lawrie, who began his Brewers career last month about 100 miles up the road from Miller Park at the Brewers' new Class A affiliate. "I love it back there," Lawrie proclaimed on Draft day, professing his affinity for catching.
So much for his excitement about being a backstop. Over the offseason, after Lawrie had played for Team Canada in the Junior World Championships and the Beijing Olympics, his outlook changed."I've always liked second base," Lawrie said. "I like catching, too, but it wasn't a position I could see myself going to the park every day and playing. Catching just wasn't really there for me. It didn't feel proper to me. I think it's one of those things you have to pick up when you're young." Lawrie insists the decision to move to second base was his own. It had to be approved by club officials and went all the way up the ladder to general manager Doug Melvin. "When Brett was drafted, he was drafted for his bat," Melvin said. "It wasn't firm where he was going to play, and [second base] might not be his last position, either. He's athletic enough to play a couple of positions." In the Draft room, scouts debated a number of defensive projections for Lawrie. Catcher obviously came up, but so did first, second and third base and left field. The scouts mostly talked about his offensive potential, and so far Lawrie has not disappointed. He's hitting .298 with four home runs, 21 RBIs, eight stolen bases and a .350 on-base percentage. He's among the Midwest League's top 10 in homers and RBIs, and he went 3-for-5 in the Rattlers' April 24 "Border Battle" against Peoria in front of 17,880 fans at Miller Park. "For now, this is the position he's playing," Melvin said. "And he wants to play there. It's important that the player buys into it." Nichols had initial doubts about the switch and so did Lawrie's manager, Jeff Isom. One unnamed scout who watched Lawrie play a Spring Training game called his play there, "a joke." "No way, no how he's going to be able to stay there," the scout told the Web site Baseball Prospectus. Yes, Lawrie read that report. "They always say, 'You can't do this or that,'" Lawrie said. "But that doesn't bother me. I know what I can do and what I can't do. It just makes me strive harder to get it done." Lawrie did have some experience at second base for the Canadian junior national team. His switch to second could prove a savvy move. Brewers catcher Jason Kendall turns 35 next month and is in the final year of his contract, but the team has a pair of exciting catching prospects in Triple-A Nashville's Angel Salome and Double-A Huntsville's Jonathan Lucroy, both 22. Defense-first catcher Carlos Corporan projects as a backup, but he climbed so high on the depth chart in Spring Training that the Brewers currently have him in the big leagues while Mike Rivera rehabs an ankle injury. At second base, meanwhile, Weeks is a free agent after the 2011 season. The team's top infield prospects all play other positions. Mat Gamel and Taylor Green are third basemen, and Alcides Escobar and Brent Brewer are currently shortstops. Isom doesn't just think that Lawrie could pass in the Major Leagues as a second baseman, but that he could be a good one. "I saw him in Spring Training ... and I didn't know what to expect," Isom said. "There were some rough times, but you saw a lot of athleticism. We would see things in games and have to mention, 'You need to be doing this and that.' "The thing about Brett Lawrie is that you tell him once about game-situation stuff, and you don't have to tell him again. In Spring Training, it was daily that we talked about two or three things. As the season started, we haven't had to tell him a thing. He's a 'baseball guy.'"
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.