What could prospect Justin Lawrence eventually bring to the Colorado Rockies bullpen? After a suspension that lasted the entire 2020 season, the right-handed reliever will be back at spring training in 2021.
The last two seasons have been rough for reliever Justin Lawrence. After being in Colorado Rockies camp for the first time in 2019, the right-hander struggled mightily on the mound, bouncing between Double-A and Triple-A and combining for an 8.76 ERA in 26.2 innings over 38 games.
Lawrence and the Rockies were both hoping to see a rebound in 2020, but that didn’t happen as Lawrence never took the mound following an 80-game suspension handed down before the season began for taking Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT), which is a performance-enhancing substance that is not allowed under Major League Baseball’s drug policy.
Speaking to reporters after the suspension was revealed, Lawrence said that he would “make sure I come out of this thing as the best teammate, player and person that I can be,” and “I have the organization in my corner, and they’re working around their schedules to make sure I’m getting in my live B.P., my simulated games and everything I need to stay ready.”
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That was at the end of February. Flash forward to September 28 and that was the day that Lawrence was officially activated from the restricted list. Despite there not being 80 regular-season games in the 2020 season that could squeeze just 60 into the slate, Rockies assistant general manager for player development and farm director Zach Wilson confirmed in our recent exclusive interview that Lawrence’s suspension will be considered served in full.
“He will not have another 20 games remaining on his 80-game suspension, so that’s good news for everybody,” Wilson said. “His circumstances in terms of what happened were really unique and unfortunate. I suspect that he’s going to come into spring training fully ready to go.”
The Rockies put out a statement on Lawrence’s suspension and Lawrence served the suspension, despite his belief that it was a “contamination” of a supplement he was taking.
Now, it’s time to move forward for Lawrence and the Rockies. What could that look like? I asked Wilson for his thoughts on how Lawrence could bring an impact.
“It’s now been over a year since he’s pitched, but when he is at his best, it’s 97 to 100 (mph) with a sweeping slider,” Wilson said. “That, and both his pitches are swing-and-miss pitches, and he mixes in a quality change in there too.
“When you’re throwing from below three quarters, sometimes sidearm, at 99 with sink, and then you mix in a sweeping slider that sweeps across the plate, it makes for a very uncomfortable at-bat, particularly for a right handed hitter.”
Batters hit .172 against Lawrence in 2017 at Class-A Asheville and .188 against him in 2018 at Class-A Lancaster. Those numbers jumped to over .300 when Lawrence faced Double-A and Triple-A batters. For Lawrence to take the next step for the Rockies, he has to bring the dominance he displayed at the lower levels to more advanced batters in 2021.
“My hope is that he has a breakout year at the upper levels this year and he knows what that’s going to take,” Wilson said.
Note: You can read more about Lawrence and his abilities in our exclusive interview with him shortly before the 2019 minor league season began.