Every once in a while, a draft class is truly special. Ask experts about the 2011 draft, which was both top-heavy and incredibly deep, and out-of-breath statements will be made about how phenomenal the class is and will be. Still, that class has proved virtually nothing in professional baseball so far. That’s not true of the 2005 draft class, which thus far has been truly elite.
In fact, if a team drafted in the top twelve and didn’t come away with a current or budding superstar, or at the very least a well above-average major leaguer, that team would be in the small minority. The names that were drafted in picks one through twelve are astounding: Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Ricky Romero, Troy Tulowitzki, Mike Pelfrey, Cameron Maybin, Andrew McCutchen, and Jay Bruce. The rest of the first round has thus far produced several other players that have made the major leagues, including Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, and Colby Rasmus.
Sandwiched in the middle of the 2005 and 2011 classes, the 2008 draft class seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of the 2005 class. However, thus far it has experienced some setbacks. Still, it has plenty of potential to produce competent major league ball players along with at least a few superstars. Names drafted in 2008 in the first round include Pedro Alvarez, Eric Hosmer, Brian Matusz, Buster Posey, Gordon Beckham, Justin Smoak, Jemile Weeks, and Brett Wallaceand that’s only the first half of the round. With all due respect to those players, I personally believe the best player to come out of the 2008 draft class actually was drafted in the second half of the first round. I’m talking about the Milwaukee Brewers pick at #16, third baseman Brett Lawrie.
Lawrie is no longer a Brewer. The third baseman was traded to Toronto in exchange for pitcher Shawn Marcum prior to last season. Heading into the season, Lawrie was a consensus top 100 prospect, but not part of the upper echelon of minor league baseball players due to three main factors: evaluators took issue with Lawrie’s character and on-field temperance, his plate discipline, and his defense.
Still, Lawrie had plenty to like about him going into the season. Statistically speaking, Lawrie had posted a .777 OPS in 2009 largely as a 19 year-old in Low-A ball. The next year, Lawrie jumped a level and played the entire year in Double-A at only twenty years of age, posting an impressive .797 OPS. While those were solid numbers, Lawrie’s production didn’t even truly justify his scouting report. Blessed with stunning bat speed, quick wrists, and plenty of raw power, Lawrie had the tools to be an elite hitter both for average and power, although his strikeout rate in 2010 of nearly 20% caused a bit of pause by critics. In the field, Lawrie flashed well above-average athleticism, only held back by his inability to focus.
Lawrie started off 2011 with multiple changes of scenery. Now a Blue Jay, Lawrie was moved from second base to third base full time. The newly minted third baseman started off hot in AAA Las Vegas, a park notorious for its extreme offensive environment. Still, Lawrie’s first few months, in which he posted a total OPS over well over 1.000, led me to christen him as my pick to be the best player in the 2008 draft class. Lawrie’s first few months as a Blue Jay also assuaged fears about the three issues that previously had held him back. He dropped his strikeout rate a bit, to 18.1%, which was a more than acceptable number when paired with an improved walk rate of 9.4%. Reports also highlighted the new Blue Jay’s improved maturity as well as his successful transition to third base, where Lawrie’s superb reaction time was often on display.
As early as June, Lawrie looked poised to get his chance to begin to prove me right at the highest level of baseball, with rumors swirling about an imminent call-up. Unfortunately, a broken hand prevented him from making his MLB debut until early August. Lawrie did not disappoint. In 43 games as a Blue Jay, Lawrie had 171 plate appearances. In those plate appearances, he crushed the ball to the tune of a .293/.373/.580 line. Lawrie’s .287 ISO was especially impressive highlighted by nine homeruns, again in only 43 games. Lawrie did manage to make six errors, but still flashed a potentially above-average glove that should develop with experience and consistency. There are still several candidates to take the crown of best player drafted in 2008, most notably Eric Hosmer and 2010 NL rookie of the year Buster Posey, but for now my money is on Brett Lawrie.
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