Brett Lawrie might have been making his major league debut tonight, but for a pitch that bounced off his hand in the opening inning of Tuesday’s game for Triple-A Las Vegas. Fortunately for Lawrie, and the Blue Jays, the mid-90s fastball didn’t break any bones. Toronto’s top prospect may be left with a painful bump, but it is likely to be the last on his road to the majors.

More than just a third baseman who could inject some offense into a position that has under-produced this season (Jays third basemen recently endured a collective 0-for-44 slump and ranked among the worst in the American League in offensive output), Lawrie looks destined to become the one thing Toronto baseball fans have never seen: a Canadian superstar playing in home colours.

Born and raised in Langley, B.C., Lawrie joined the Blue Jays last winter in the trade that sent Shaun Marcum, the grizzled veteran of Toronto’s callow staff, to Milwaukee. A catcher during his high school days and a second baseman during his two years in the Brewers system, the Jays immediately moved Lawrie again, shifting him around the infield to third.

The brash 21-year-old boldly predicted he’d make the Opening Day roster out of spring training, and even had manager John Farrell on his side after his hot hitting turned heads time and again. But general manager Alex Anthopoulos resisted both his manager’s pleas and calls from fans, sending the young star down for some extra seasoning.

Lawrie might have torn up Triple-A pitching in his first month in the minors, but there were signs he wasn’t quite ready for the big leagues. He made six errors at his new position (albeit while playing his home games on one of the most unforgiving fields in baseball), and struck out five times for every walk.

To be fair, it wasn’t a huge surprise. Canadian baseball players often emerge from high school a little more raw than their counterparts from elsewhere, simply because they don’t play as many games. And Lawrie had only two minor league seasons, about 250 games, of professional experience under his belt. No matter how enticing the siren song, there was no reason to rush.

As debate swirled over Lawrie’s minor league lifespan, the Blue Jays barraged him with coaching advice on improving his batting eye and cleaning up his fielding miscues. By the end of May, both efforts were bearing fruit, and even Anthopoulos was forced to admit his prized prospect might soon be promoted.

In a pregame chat with the media this week, the GM conceded that Lawrie had done “everything we’ve asked,” and was “starting to force our hand.” Feedback from Toronto’s roving infield instructor, Mike Mordecai, raved about Lawrie’s defensive improvements, and his batting eye had also come around, with Anthopoulos happily reporting that Lawrie was learning to lay off breaking pitches.

Immediately, rumours ran wild of a Friday call-up, a way to let the kid get acclimated on a week-long trip to Baltimore and Kansas City and away from the glare of the home media. The pitch that bruised his left hand may have derailed that timetable by a few days, but Brett Lawrie’s arrival is clearly much more imminent than it was a week ago.

With apologies to Paul Quantrill, Corey Koskie and Matt Stairs, Blue Jays fans have never had a Canadian player to really get excited about. Even Montrealers were able to enjoy a little of Larry Walker’s greatness before he moved south to Colorado. Here in Toronto, the home country hero has always been a visitor, whether it’s Jason Bay, Justin Morneau or Joey Votto.

Lawrie is the first Jays player who could change that, an enticing mix of power and speed, a confident (if not a little arrogant) kid on the path to superstardom. In a market starved for success, and in a country proud of its own, he’s sure to be a big deal.

4 Comments | Add a Comment
Canadians are medium.
Anthopolous is medium
Anthopolous is a genius, Ryan is an idiot.
Anthopolous is an idiot.
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