02/16/09 10:00 AM EST
Brewers' wait for Lawrie almost over
Power-hitting catching prospect eyeing spot on Canada roster
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
And the legion of Team Canada fans which has enjoyed watching the teenage phenom sport the maple leaf in international competition may get at least one more chance to do so before he officially embarks on what projects to be a great pro career.
Lawrie, who celebrated his 19th birthday last month, is on the provisional roster for Team Canada for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. And if recent history is any indication, he looks like a good bet to make the final cut.
The highest-drafted position player ever to come out of Canada, Lawrie was selected 16th overall last spring by Milwaukee out of high school in Langley, B.C.
Scouts drooled over the right-handed hitter's prodigious power, prominently displayed during an extended spring training exhibition doubleheader against the Seattle Mariners' Dominican League team in which he hit five homers. A pure hitter with outstanding bat speed and a good feel for hitting, the third baseman/catcher has the potential to be the whole package.
But before he signed on the bottom line with the Brewers, Lawrie had some other business to take care of, as he represented his country, first in the World Junior Championships in July and then in Beijing at the Olympics.
The Brewers were totally supportive of Lawrie's decision, something he appreciates.
"It was something we both had to be comfortable with, with no hard feelings," said Lawrie, who will make his pro debut this April, most likely with one of the Brewers' Class A squads. "Everyone had to be on the same page, and everyone was. They were compassionate about it, they didn't just blow it off. Obviously, I wanted to go to the Olympics, and I think the Brewers felt it would be in my best interest to go and play with a bunch of older guys."
To say the experience was memorable would be an understatement.
"The feeling of walking into that stadium (for the Opening Ceremonies) was awesome, just unfathomable," he recalled. "You can't even describe it. You have to have been there to witness it, to feel it. In the tunnel, we were all singing 'O, Canada.'"
Once his international whirlwind tour was done, though, Lawrie was officially in the Brewers fold and joined the organization for the Arizona instructional league.
"Whoever says that instructional league is fun is lying," he laughed. "It was a real grind from the crack of dawn to the end of the day. It was wearing, but I also know it's going to help me."
Lawrie's international experience dates to when he was 15 and made his first Canadian national team, a moment he still remembers clearly.
"I was really nervous because I was playing with a lot of guys who were much older than I was," he said. "I'd never played with such high-caliber guys. I still remember walking into that clubhouse the first time. It was awesome."
Over the intervening few years, he's gotten to know the other elite Canadian players and the mutual national pride has grown stronger and stronger, as has Canada's reputation as a breeding ground for big league talent such as Justin Morneau, Russell Martin and Jason Bay.
And soon, it would appear, Lawrie's name will be spoken in that same context.
RHP Alex Periard also is on the Canadian provisional roster. The 21-year-old native of St. Eustache, Quebec, (a suburb of Montreal with a population of just over 40,000) was a 16th-round pick in 2004 who made his debut the following summer. In 2008, he went 9-6 with a 3.51 ERA in 19 games at Advanced Class A Brevard County before moving up to Double-A Huntsville, where he posted a 5.68 ERA in eight starts. He combined for 96 strikeouts over 150 2/3 innings.
C Vinny Rottino is on the Italian provisional roster. A non-drafted free agent signed in 2003 out of the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, the 28-year-old Rottino has posted a .295 average over six Minor League seasons and hit .260 with seven homers and 55 RBIs in 2008 at Triple-A Nashville. He can catch, play both corners and the outfield, a versatility that gives him an advantage.
LHP RJ Swindle is on the Canadian provisional roster. A member of the Canadian Olympic team bullpen last summer, the 25-year-old made his big league debut by appearing in three games for the Phillies in 2008. Swindle, who signed with the Brewers as a free agent in the offseason, was a 2004 14th-round pick of the Boston Red Sox out of Charleston Southern. Back trouble led to his release, despite a 1.94 ERA in his pro debut that summer. He baffles hitters with his off-speed stuff, as evidenced by his Minor League career numbers with the Sox, Yankees and Phillies: 14-6 with a 1.57 ERA and 226 strikeouts against 25 walks over 194 1/3 innings.
LHP David Welch is on the Australian provisional roster. The 6-foot-4 Sydney native, 25, was 11-4 with a 3.90 ERA at Huntsville last summer, finishing second in the Southern League in wins and 10th in ERA while striking out 95 batters over 147 2/3 innings. He also led the league with 23 home runs allowed.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.