Improved Fastball Puts Justin Lawrence On Fast Track

The long-delayed promotion finally happened when sidearming righthander Justin Lawrence, who throws unusually hard from a lower arm slot, began the season at high Class A Lancaster.

The 23-year-old reliever recorded a 1.65 ERA with six saves in 16 games last year at low Class A Asheville, with 20 strikeouts and four walks in 16.1 innings. Farm director Zach Wilson was there on May 15, planning to tell Lawrence after the game that he was headed to Lancaster.

Unfortunately, Lawrence took the mound in the ninth and tore his right lat muscle, ending his season.

Drafted in the 12th round in 2015 out of Daytona State (Fla.) JC, Lawrence has regained the 95-98 mph velocity and heavy sink on his fastball. Wilson said Lawrence is still regaining the feel he had on his 82-84 mph slider before getting hurt.

“It was a definite plus pitch,” Wilson said, that went from a “sweeping frisbee” type to one with a short, quick downward action “that he can keep in the strike zone long enough, especially from that angle.”

Lawrence also throws a 79-81 mph changeup that Wilson called “extremely usable.” Improving that pitch and throwing it more often to lefthanded hitters will be key for Lawrence.

Before the start of spring training last year, the Rockies brought former Colorado reliever Steve Reed to Arizona to work with Lawrence. Reed had nowhere near Lawrence’s velocity but the righty pitched in 833 big league games over 14 seasons with a sidearm delivery.

Reed’s points of emphasis were where Lawrence should break his hands and land his front foot.

“He was never really able to locate—let alone command—his fastball from down there,” Wilson said. “And he wasn’t able to control it a whole bunch either until Steve got to him and really helped him . . . Now he’s able to throw strikes at will, and it just completely changed the course of his development.

“I expect a really big year. He’s going to start at Lancaster, and who knows where it can go from there?”

>> At the outset of extended spring training, lefthander Ty Culbreth was sidelined with a shoulder strain. He split last season between Asheville and Lancaster and went 9-3, 3.09 in 31 games, including 17 starts.

>> Righthander James Farris retired. The Rockies acquired the 26-year-old prior to 2017 in the Eddie Butler trade with the Cubs. Farris was scheduled to begin the season at Double-A Hartford after going a combined 1-3, 3.59 last year there and at Triple-A Albuquerque in 48 games.

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