Things really began to get crazy around the baseball team at Jesuit Dallas last winter when scouts from 27 of 30 Major League teams showed up to watch one of shortstop Jordan Lawlar’s practices.
As the eighteen-year-old fielded grounders, ran the bases, and took swings against soft-toss pitching—a routine day at the office—he was both amused and aware that every eye was on him and that notes were being scribbled and video shot. Pressure? Expectations? How would you like millions of dollars in future earnings riding on everything from body language to chats with teammates and coaches? Is this guy positive? Is he coachable? Is he a good teammate?
“It’s kind of fun,” Lawlar told me, “and a lot of kids want to be in this position. So looking at it from that lens, it’s just a blessing. That started when I was fourteen. It becomes expected. You could say it’s just noise because it doesn’t affect the game.” That attitude, that maturity—along with lightning-quick hands and the ability to make breathtaking defensive plays, steal bases, and smoke 100-mile-per-hour fastballs—are why Lawlar will be among the first names called in Sunday’s MLB Draft.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, who have the number-one pick, had Lawlar in for a visit last week. The hometown Texas Rangers, who have the second pick and could use a cornerstone player or two, dispatched almost their entire front office to Jesuit at various times over the past year, including Michael Young, one of their all-time greats. The Detroit Tigers, picking third, asked Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell to take a look.
The Rangers seem like a perfect fit for Lawlar, who grew up a short drive from Arlington’s Globe Life Field, and could symbolize the upside of what has become a massive rebuilding effort. But the club declines to tip its hand, saying only that a handful of players are under consideration.
“I think it would be great if he stayed here and played,” Jesuit head coach Brian Jones said, “but that’s just me.” Lawlar has been favorably compared to Yankees Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, his favorite player, because of his six-two, 185-pound frame and poise beyond his years. In discussing Jeter, Lawlar offers insight into himself. “You know what you’re going to get when he comes to the field every day,” Lawlar said. “That’s really big for a team. They know what they’re gonna get, and then you’re just a good teammate and a good person overall.”
Lawlar also has a knack for precision—something Hope Lawlar, who raised him as a single mom, noticed early. “Jordan would always sit back and watch everything,” she said. “He wanted to have all the details, and then go out there and do it that way. He thinks and analyzes information, and that started really young.”
Having committed to play baseball at Vanderbilt, Lawlar is approaching a life-changing fork in the road, as MLB teams dangle signing bonuses north of $6 million. This decision, he told me, will come when it comes. “When you focus on the now, you’re not really focused on everything that could be happening,” he said. “Vanderbilt, that’s my certain place right now. It’s a blessing to even have the opportunity.”
Regardless, Lawlar figures to be just the eighth Texas high school player to be a top-five draft pick. MLB’s suggested signing bonuses range from $8.4 million at number one to $6.18 million at number five. If Lawlar somehow slips out of the top five, the Athletic’s Keith Law believes Lawlar could opt to spend two years at Vanderbilt and attempt to be the overall number one in 2023.
In any case, the shortstop’s future couldn’t be brighter. Jones, the Jesuit coach, attributes many of Lawlar’s strongest attributes to Hope, who serves as Jordan’s confidant, hitting coach, and best friend. When she walked Jordan through the doors at Jesuit and introduced him to Jones four years ago, the coach remembers her saying: “He’s yours. You’ll never hear anything from me.”
She meant that Jones could take care of the baseball. Her job was the larger stuff. “He’s a really good person,” she said. “And what you see is what you get. I mean, he cares about people genuinely. He has a big heart. I always tell people, he’s made me a better person.”
As MLB teams collect binders of information and hours of video, Jones wants them to know that much of what they’re seeing comes from the lessons Lawlar learned at home. “Mama’s golden,” the coach said. “I mean, as nice as Jordan is, as down-home as he is, she’s the same way. He’s a wonderful human being, and she’s just as nice.”
Hope added: “We’re an athletic family, so he’s been around sports his whole life. I always made sure, whether he did something really great or bad, that he had the same temperament. He had to be a good loser and a good winner. As competitive as we are, he kept it in check. If he didn’t, early on, he was gonna have to hang out with me for a while.”
Lawlar batted .412 and had a .556 on-base percentage at Jesuit this season. He hit six home runs and was 32 for 32 in stolen base attempts. MLB teams have been focused on his overall skill set, especially his potential to be that rare player with both power and speed in his game.
Lawlar jumped onto the radar four years ago, when, as a fourteen-year-old, he had a string of dazzling performances in select tournaments around the country. His stock rose again last September after he was named Jackie Robinson Player of the Year at the Perfect Game All-American Classic in Oklahoma City. Among the previous winners of that award: Bryce Harper, Justin Upton, and Lance McCullers Jr. In October, Lawlar blew away the talent evaluators at the Under Armour Baseball Factory All-Star Classic.
Once the prospect began his senior season at Jesuit, virtually every team—especially those picking near the top of the draft—was on hand to scout nearly every single one of Lawlar’s swings, throws, and sprints. Oh, and the scouts—who weren’t exactly anonymous, clad in the industry-standard garb of jeans and Tommy Bahama shirts—arrived early and stayed late because they wanted to see how Jordan interacted with his teammates and coaches.
Jones has long understood that Lawlar is a generational player. In conversations with MLB talent evaluators, the coach has focused not on Lawlar’s baseball skills, which are obvious, but on the teen’s work ethic, character, and commitment. “This guy is pure, genuine, down-to-earth, humble,” he said. “He’s all the good positive adjectives that you would throw out there on a quality person, much less one of the best athletes you’ll come across.
“If you talk to him, you’ll think you’re talking to someone twenty-two, twenty-three years old. He’ll listen to what you say and come back with a good pointed question. This semester, he’s been up at six-thirty and in the weight room and in a strength and agility class he does on his own. I want these teams to know how much he loves the game and how much he cares. You could tell right away he was going to be something special, even as a fourteen-year-old.”
Jones recalled a conversation with Vanderbilt assistant coach Mike Baxter, who said “I thought I was talking to a twenty-two-, twenty-three-year-old guy” when he met Lawlar. And there’s this, from Greg Genske, an agent for MLB players and lecturer at the UC Berkley School of Law, who is advising the family. “I’ve been doing this for twenty years and never come across a kid like this,” he said. “He’s just the complete package of athleticism, baseball acumen, logical and emotional intelligence, and high character. Most important, he’s a well-rounded human being.”
Lawlar has gotten some advice—and a collection of audiobooks—from Washington Nationals first baseman Josh Bell, also a Jesuit grad. Among the books was one by Tim Ferriss titled Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers.
“Basketball is a little easier to be a star and go out there and kind of do your star-like things,” Lawlar said. “But in baseball, it’s really up and down and just riding those waves. You can’t let the highs or lows get too big. So I think attacking everything with that mentality helps handle the controlled aggression.”
Hope added: “Live in the moment, enjoy everything. Just be grateful. We’re blessed that Jordan has this opportunity.”