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12th-rounder Lawrence embraces change

Promising righty satisfied with results after switching throwing style, school

DENVER -- Right-handed pitcher Justin Lawrence, the Rockies' 12th-round pick out of Daytona State College on Wednesday on the final day of the 2015 MLB Draft, never fears change. But his biggest switch was an easy choice.

Two years ago, as a freshman at Jacksonville University, he was seeing little of the mound.

"I was a conventional right-handed pitcher, over-the-top, nothing special, and I wasn't getting very many innings" said Lawrence, 20, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. "I'm a competitor, and I said I've got to get into the game somehow. One day I was fooling around in the bullpen and dropped my arm down, and I saw the velocity and movement. I called a coach over to take a look, and he liked it."

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Ditching the overhand for low-three-quarters, sidearm and even submarine motions wasn't Lawrence's biggest change. He left Jacksonville for Daytona State, a two-year school, not because it meant he would have been eligible for this year's Draft, but because he had a chance to be a position player as well as pitch. However, Lawrence's new motion was so effective, he put away his bats.

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"He was 85-86 mph, but he dropped down midway through his freshman spring at JU and kept working on it," Daytona State assistant coach/recruiting and pitching coordinator Chris Reilly said. "We saw him in the Florida Collegiate Summer League, and he was touching 90, and this past fall he got up to 94, 94, 95, even 97 on one gun."

Lawrence began the year with Daytona State in relief, but he made two starts toward the end. Overall, he appeared in 19 games and went 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 21 walks in 32 innings. He finished by pitching 7 2/3 innings, striking out eight and giving up one run on four hits and four walks in a win.

Rockies Central and South Florida area supervisor John Cedarburg and Rookie-level Grand Junction pitching coach Ryan Kibler held a workout for Lawrence last week and left impressed with Lawrence's stuff and the fact he has put so much into the change.

"He has electric stuff and heavy sink when he puts it up there," Cedarburg said. "When he worked him out, he was 92-94 from the submarine slot. He has really good stuff to get ground balls. Ryan Kibler was there with me, and he loved what he saw."

Reilly called Oklahoma State, where he played collegiate ball, and the coaches there liked Lawrence enough to grab his commitment. Lawrence said the OSU coaches called him after the Draft to discuss the pros and cons about continuing his collegiate career or signing. Lawrence had not made a decision as of Wednesday afternoon.

Whatever choice he makes, he will be bold about it in the same way he was with changing his throwing style and leaving a four-year school for a two-year school.

"It was a big decision, leaving behind the baseball and the education at Jacksonville University, but I put in hard work, and Daytona State was rigorous, so all ended up working out well," Lawrence said. "There are risks and rewards for everything."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, and like his Facebook page.
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