DUNEDIN, Florida – There they sit, side by side, locker beside locker, sharing a laugh on an early Dunedin morning, moments before taking the field for another spring workout.
To an observer, Mark DeRosa and Brett Lawrie appear a hybrid of father-and-son, teacher-and-student, mentor-and-mentee. DeRosa, the grizzled veteran of 15 major league seasons, the Blue Jays his eighth organization. Lawrie, the 23-year-old budding star who has played but 168 games. It is not clear what they are joking about but it is obvious they already get along.
"Just a bundle of energy to be around," said DeRosa of his appointed understudy. "He's got enough energy for the both of us over at third. I look forward to this year and hopefully being a sounding board for him."
DeRosa need not worry. Lawrie will talk to him. He'll ask questions, he'll prank him. Generally, whenever he is in DeRosa's vicinity, the 37-year-old will know it.
"He's got everything you need to be successful in this game," said DeRosa. "It's just a matter of maturing on the mental side of it and not letting the game beat you up."
Therein lies the key. Nobody questions Lawrie's potential, his raw ability or his willingness to work to improve his game. There have been times at the plate, in the field, on the basepaths, when the excitable kid from Langley, British Columbia has allowed his pent-up aggression to get the better of him. Chalk it up to being young and hungry.
"Energy helps," said manager John Gibbons. "That's a big part of this. He can always back down if he needs to. Energetic guys, they come to play everyday and they give (the team) that little shot of adrenaline. That's what's made him successful, his approach and his attitude. We just want him to be smart when he's out there."
Gibbons has a well-documented history of mixing it up – he sparred, almost literally, with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly in separate incidents during his first tenure as Blue Jays' manager – but Lawrie is likely to be a different case. He is dogged by a desire to compete, to win, and you don't quell such aspirations even if you do have to help guide them at times.
"He's so young and inexperienced, naturally he's not going to be where he's going to be two, three years from now when he starts hitting his prime," said Gibbons. "The sky's the limit. There's really nothing he can't do. He's got a chance to be a gold glove guy down there at third base. He's just got tone down his game a little bit, play smart baseball (consistently,) and he'll be very, very good."
Lawrie's ceiling, likely, will be set by the player himself. In a perfect world, he's a five-tool player who hits for power and average, uses his speed and smarts to steal bases and becomes a gold glove candidate at third base with his range and arm.
DeRosa has played with some of the best hitters in the game, including Albert Pujols in St. Louis, Chipper Jones with the Braves and Michael Young down in Texas.
"These guys know what's coming before the guy even goes into his windup," said DeRosa, referring to an elite player's instincts and also to his methodical preparation. "It's all about execution at that point but it's nice to think your way through certain at-bats and certain situations to be able to slow the game down."
Preparation involves, among other things, video work and consultation with hitting coach Chad Mottola. While it's one thing to be prepared, it's another to deal in the moment as an in-game scenario plays out. DeRosa thinks he can help Lawrie slow a moment down.
"I know they sometimes say 'a full head is an empty bat' but the way the game is now, it's become so specialized, it's a situation where if you come up with runners in scoring position, you're going to get pitched a lot different than if you come up with no runners on."
- The Grapefruit League schedule starts on Saturday. Manager John Gibbons outlined a possible rotation through Sunday.
Saturday, February 19, in Lakeland vs. Detroit: Brandon Morrow
Sunday, February 20, split squad in Dunedin vs. Baltimore: Mark Buehrle
Sunday, February 20, split squad in Tampa vs. New York Yankees: J.A. Happ
A handful of major leaguers will make the trip to Lakeland but the veteran mainstays, like Jose Bautista, will debut in the home game on Sunday.
Gibbons is happy with the tone and pace of camp but admits he is eager to put his team on the field.
"I'm very pleased. Short and sweet, we get our work done and get out of here," said Gibbons. "Everybody, for the most part, is healthy. At this point in the spring, things get a little monotonous, you're doing the same things over and over. Until you start playing some games, basically you've got to get through it."
- As Blue Jays Brett Lawrie and Adam Loewen prepare to play for Team Canada at the World Baseball Classic, they were surprised to hear various reports of Pirates' catcher Russell Martin playing shortstop when the games begin next month. Neither, however, doubts Martin's ability to set aside his catcher's garb, pick up an infield mitt and go to work.
"The last time I played with Russell Martin was at the World Baseball Classic (in 2009) and then before that was on the junior national team when he played third base," said Loewen, in camp for a second tour in the Blue Jays organization. He was unbelievable at third base, great hands and great range. He's just a complete athlete."
Said Lawrie of Martin: "He definitely can (play shortstop) because he takes ground balls there all the time."
- Loewen was your typical Canadian boy. Growing up in Surrey, British Columbia, he played hockey until age 15 and says he had a knack for the sport.
"I was pretty good," said Loewen, a forward who played centre and the wing. "I could have gone on to major junior the following year but I enjoyed baseball more."
Loewen hopes to earn a starting outfield job with Triple-A Buffalo.
- Sergio Santos, 29, is a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan. He wears a black, sleeveless shirt bearing the team's distinct logo underneath his Blue Jays' garb on workout days. A native of Los Angeles, Santos was 12 years old in 1995 when late owner Al Davis moved the Raiders from LA back to Oakland.
Santos threw his second live batting practice on Tuesday and appears to be on schedule as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
- Had an opportunity to stand right behind J.P. Arencibia (with a chain link fence between us) as he caught R.A. Dickey's warm up bullpen session Tuesday morning. A unique perspective, to say the least, and not sure that seeing Dickey's knuckleball on TV will do it justice.
You'll best be able to judge by keeping your eye on confused hitters flailing away, in some cases, hopelessly. It's certainly a hard knuckleball. There is nothing about his pitch that "floats."