Omar Vizquel has seen a lot of players come and go during his incredible 23-year journey through major-league baseball and he concedes that Brett Lawrie is one of the more impressive players he has come across.
In the view of many, the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman is already teetering on the brink of stardom, much of the hype gleaned from a two-month audition late in the 2011 season when his fiercely competitive nature, not to mention an impressive array of baseball skills, earned him a legion of followers.
It didn’t hurt when the 22-year-old tore up spring training this year, hitting a blistering .524 with 22 hits in 42 at-bats.
And did we mention that Lawrie is a Canadian, from Langley, B.C., playing for Canada’s only major-league team?
And while the sample size is admittedly small, the wizened Vizquel said he has seen enough of his hyper-active teammate to convince him that Lawrie will more than live up to the heavy expectations.
“He is a special guy,” the future Hall of Fame player said on Wednesday from Progressive Field. “I think you’re not going to see too many players with the talents like this guy has.
“He’s a combination of power and speed. I think of Bo Jackson, and he was great.”
Lawrie’s next step in his baseball evolution will begin in Cleveland on Thursday with the Blue Jays slated to play their 2012 season opener against the Indians.
It is the first of a three-game set after which the Blue Jays head back to Toronto to play their home opener on Monday against the Boston Red Sox at the Rogers Centre.
The Blue Jays took care of a few housekeeping matters following a final workout in Cleveland, placing pitcher Jesse Litsch on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis.
The American League club also said that Luis Valbuena, who failed to make the team out of spring training as a utility infielder, has been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Cubs.
Lawrie plays the game with the fearlessness of a freight train, always full on and without a shred of doubt that he has the ability to succeed.
A rare combination of power, speed and finesse, Lawrie said he can’t remember playing the game with a moment of doubt in his mind.
The highest Canadian position player drafted into the majors, when he was chosen 16th overall in 2008 by the Milwaukee Brewers before being traded to Toronto in 2010 for starting pitcher Shaun Marcum, Lawrie plays the game with a bravado that fits in well with his teammates.
“We do play with a little swagger,” said Lawrie, who swatted six home runs during the month of August last year when he was called up from Triple A, the second most from a Toronto rookie in his first full month.
Only Carlos Delgado, with eight home runs in April, 1994, counted more.
“The passion, the intensity, he brings around to this clubhouse is unbelievable,” said Ricky Romero, who makes his second consecutive opening day start for the Jays. “You never see that kid tight.”
As much as Lawrie’s all-out style is infectious, Vizquel cautioned that the third baseman will have to learn to slow the pace down at times if he wants to survive the everyday rigours of a 162-game season.
Lawrie already has struggled with a sore groin during spring training and last season was on the disabled list twice, the second time after fracturing a finger fielding a ball during batting practice.
“He’s going to realize that not all the time you have to go 120 miles an hour,” Vizquel said. “There are plays, there are situations, where he doesn’t really have to go that fast. He’s going to learn that he has to slow down the game in order for him to do better things.
“But experience is the only that that is going to tell him that.”
Lawrie’s not sure he knows how to play any other way.
“It may look full bore to you guys but it’s kind of like that’s my even keel,” he said. “That’s how I play the game. I’m not out of control. I’m in control.”