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Jays' Lawrie learning ropes in first spring camp

Jays' Lawrie learning ropes in first spring camp

Jays' Lawrie learning ropes in first spring camp
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Brett Lawrie's tenure with the Blue Jays is barely two months old, but already the top infield prospect feels more welcome in Toronto than he has in his professional career.

Lawrie, who was acquired from the Brewers during the offseason, is attending his first Major League Spring Training. Despite being selected in the first round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, it's an opportunity he never received in Milwaukee.

"It's a plus for me to be around these guys," Lawrie said while looking around at the Blue Jays' clubhouse. "It's a young club, and for me, I didn't get the opportunity in Milwaukee and I didn't know when it was going to happen over there.

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"I was never told and that was one of the things I didn't really enjoy -- it was poor communication on their part towards me. I wish them luck in the future, but I'm in a new organization now, and I feel pretty comfortable."

It didn't take long for Lawrie to draw attention to himself following December's trade with the Brewers for No. 1 starter Shaun Marcum. Shortly after being acquired, Lawrie said he was through with Minor League Baseball and declared himself ready to take the next step.

That stance has noticeably changed since arriving at the Blue Jays' Minor League complex in Dunedin, Fla. Lawrie is done making predictions of when he will make his debut and instead says his focus is going to stay on the field.

"I think the less I worry about that, the quicker it's going to happen," Lawrie said of his future in the Major Leagues. "I don't have a set timeline in my head. I'd obviously rather have it happen sooner than later -- as would everybody in this business -- but I think if I go about my game and I mature as a player and a person, I think I'm going to get an opportunity before too long."

Lawrie's attitude during the offseason caught the attention of media, but whenever Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was asked about it, he said that's the type of mentality he wants to see in a ballplayer.

Anthopoulos doesn't want to have players that are content with the status quo. In order to succeed in the challenging American League East Division, it takes a different kind of player, and that's something Lawrie agrees with.

"One thing I don't lack in is confidence, but I think that's a good thing," said Lawrie, who ranks No. 28 on the list of MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects. "If you go to the plate or onto the field and you have [doubts] in the back of your mind, it's not going to work.

"I'm looking to go out there and do some damage. I'm a fiery player and that's what I've always had about me, and as I move forward and I keep carrying that with me, that is going to help the team win."

Lawrie was drafted as a catcher, but rose through the ranks of Milwaukee's system as a second baseman. With the Blue Jays, he has been asked to shift across the diamond to become the club's third baseman of the future.

He has spent the first few days of Spring Training working with veteran John McDonald and third-base coach Brian Butterfield. It's too early in camp for the Blue Jays to know whether the switch is going to be a success, but Butterfield is optimistic.

"The one thing that I like is that I think this guy has a willingness to work," Butterfield said. "He has been out early with the veteran guys and had the chance to handle the ball a little bit.

"He's a guy with obvious ability. Very explosive, very strong, very athletic -- and I'm really looking forward to seeing more, but right now it's just the tip of the iceberg."

Despite having to change positions, Lawrie doesn't feel as though he is being forced to start from square one. He gained experience playing third base as a 16-year-old with the Canadian national junior team, which gives him a reference point. Now it's just about improving his footwork and acclimating his arm to making the throw to first base.

It's a welcome change for Lawrie, who hit .285 with eight home runs, 63 RBIs and 60 extra-base hits in Double-A last season. The native of Langley, British Columbia, said playing third has been on his mind for awhile and he even requested to make the transition there while in Milwaukee.

"I asked to play it last year a little bit when our team was kind of out of it, but they just shut me down and said, 'No you're not playing there,'" Lawrie said. "I don't really understand why, but obviously they had their reasons. But I'm excited to get over there and keep working on it and get in the best position that I can."

Now the biggest question facing the Blue Jays' organization is just how quickly they will allow Lawrie to make the jump to the Major Leagues. His offensive abilities are very advanced for someone who is still just 21 years old, and it's a matter of fine-tuning his skill set while allowing proper time to develop his play at third base.

For now, he is expected to begin the year with Triple-A Las Vegas. What happens beyond that point is still up in the air.

"Personally it's too early to tell," manager John Farrell said. "We feel very confidently that at some point in the future he is going to be an impact bat at the Major League level. What the timeline on that is he's going to tell us rather than us sitting here with a pinpoint date on a calendar."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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