A professional baseball scout called Jesuit College Prep coach Brian Jones in Dallas, Texas.
“Hey, when does your junior varsity play?” the scout asked.
“What?” Jones asked.
“I need to see this Lawlar kid,” the scout replied.
Jordan Lawlar, at the time, was a freshman, who had burst onto the national scene after a standout performance at the 2017 Select Baseball Festival for 14-year-olds. Lawlar started picking up college offers, including one from Michigan.
“Then, I got a call from the opposing coach,” Jones said. “He was like, ‘Why are there scouts at a JV game?’
“I told him, ‘well, you’ll find out as soon as my team hits the field over there.”
Lawlar was ineligible to play in the state tournament because he had transferred to Jesuit from outside the district, so he was playing JV.
“That might be a first, scouts going to watch a JV game,” Jones said, laughing.
The scouts are still flocking to Dallas to see this fast, athletic shortstop who has committed to Vanderbilt but is considered one of the top prospects in the 2021 MLB draft (July 11-13). Most mock drafts predict Lawlar will be the first position player picked, which is significant for the Detroit Tigers considering they hold the No.3 pick and are in desperate need of more offensive players.
Earlier this spring, former Tigers great Alan Trammel spent a weekend watching Lawlar play.
“What is Trammell’s role in the organization?” Jones asked me a few days before Trammell arrived.
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“He has an important voice,” I said. “Trammell scouted Spencer Torkelson before the Tigers took him with the first pick last year.”
By most accounts, the top five players in this draft are a pair of Vanderbilt pitchers (Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker) and three high school shortstops: Marcelo Mayer (California), Brady House (Georgia) and Lawlar — although certainly not in that order.
Some recent mock drafts project Lawlar will be taken first overall by Pittsburgh Pirates.
Others, including both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, predict Lawlar will go second to the Texas Rangers: “As a five-tool high school shortstop from the Dallas area, Lawlar draws comparisons to Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 to the Royals in 2019), who had louder tools but a less polished bat at the same stage of their careers.”
But two months until the draft, nothing is certain.
You gotta have Hope
Baseball America asked scouts to rank high school prospects with the best tools and Lawlar was listed in nearly every category: best athlete (first), best pure hitter (first), fastest runner (second) and best defensive infielder (second).
The only category where he wasn’t ranked was power hitting. But scouts believe that will come. “Lawlar showed one of the best hit tools at the Perfect Game All-American Classic, has a chance for above-average future power and is also an easy plus runner who has clocked a 6.45 60-yard dash,” Baseball America writes.
Physical tools are one thing.
But Lawlar’s biggest strength might be his makeup.
And the source of that is easy to find. His mother, Hope Lawlar, is the rock of the family.
“She was actually a really good basketball player,” said Coy Polk, who coached Jordan for years on the Dallas Tigers, a travel ball team starting when Jordan was 9. “She has done an unbelievable job raising him. She gets all the credit for how he turned out. Hope is like the sweetest lady you’ll ever meet but you start to get to know her a little bit and she’s competitive. She’s got a fire in her. It runs deep in her blood.”
Hope raised Jordan as a single mother.
“He’s made my job really easy as a mother,” Hope said. “And I’m just happy to be on the journey with him and to have a small part in what he’s done.”
Actually, she is downplaying her role. She takes him to the batting cages for soft toss. She takes him to the fields and hits him grounders — “I’m awful at it,” she said, laughing. And when baseball was shut down last year during the pandemic, she did drills in the house with her son, bouncing him balls off the carpet, as he practiced backhands for what seemed like hours at a time.
“She means everything to me,” Jordan said. “She’s been really influential and changed me and made me into the man I am today.”
A tough, early lesson
Hope has a theory.
“I always believed that when you have adversity, that’s when you grow the most,” she said. “That’s when you really know who you are as a person.”
“What were some of moments of adversity for Jordan?” I asked.
She told a story about the first time that Jordan, then 9, played in a national tournament with the Dallas Tigers.
(How fitting, right? If he gets picked by the Detroit Tigers, they already have all kinds of spirit wear.)
The Tigers were playing in Orlando, Florida, at a tournament for the top 32 teams in the country.
“I can still picture the fields,” Jordan said. “We were playing Team Avalanche (based in Florida). It was a big game, a pool play game, actually.”
It was July 31, 2012.
“The bases were loaded and it was a 3-2 count,” he said.
The pitcher threw a fastball.
“Pretty much down the middle,” he said. “I just froze up in a big situation.”
He struck out and the Tigers lost, 4-2.
“It was my first real time experiencing failure in baseball,” he said. “It really put me down in a low place and I’ve never really felt like that.”
Jordan and his mother went back to a hotel.
“I really just contemplated quitting the game and I just kind of questioned myself,” Jordan said. “I didn’t know if I was good enough to play at that level.”
“He was just beside himself,” Hope said. “And I remember him looking at me just thinking, Mom, should I quit? What should I do?”
They prayed together.
“I just told him God had a plan for him,” Hope said. “And I knew that this is what you need because that’s how growth happens in you.”
I have a theory about the national youth baseball tournaments. It is a high-stress pressure cooker that prepares kids for big-time moments down the road. You want to know why Lawlar did so well on the showcase circuit last summer? Why he excelled under so much pressure?
It’s because he’s been in those moments since he was 9.
And because he grew from that early failure.
“I’m glad he didn’t quit,” Hope Lawlar said, laughing.
‘OK, this kid’s different’
Lawlar had plenty of opportunities to join other travel teams. But he stuck with the Dallas Tigers.
Because loyalty means everything to Jordan and his mother.
“He’s a franchise player,” Polk said. “He keeps his nose clean and keeps his head in the game. He’s always been a little bit more mature than the other kids growing up.”
Polk knew Jordan was special when he was 11.
“We were in the championship game in South Carolina,” he said. “There’s a ball hit between second and short. He dives and when he’s fully laid out, the ball comes back over his head. He’s mid-air diving and he grabbed the ball. It’s obscene. He gets up and throws the kid out at 11. Like, OK, this kid’s different. I mean, it was insane. It was unbelievable.”
While many travel baseball players have individual hitting coaches, Jordan hits off feel and he learned everything by watching videos.
“Mechanically, he idolizes Derek Jeter,” Polk said. ” When he really gets into a ball ,that’s in the left center, right center gap, it’s pretty close to Derek Jeter type swing.”
But the Jeter comparison extends beyond his swing.
It’s the way he acts, according to Vernon Wells, the three-time AL All-Star who mentors Lawlar.
“There’s a presence about him,” Wells said. “There’s a few people that I played with that he reminds me of as a person. One is Mike Trout, who always has a smile on his face and enjoys being around his teammates, enjoys the game. And I think the other is Derek Jeter — just the presence that he has.”
Lawlar has that same aura, the same ability to be a great player but still connect with teammates, according to Wells.
“Those things are their gifts,” Wells said. “They’re not something that most guys have.”
Contact Jeff Seidel: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.