The obvious advantage of a side-arm pitcher is the funk; it’s tough for hitters to pick up a low slot that they aren’t used to. In addition to command challenges, the unique angle of a sidearm or submarine pitcher often brings on a corresponding loss in velocity–but not in Justin Lawrence’s case. He pitches from a true side-arm slot, pumping gas up to 98 mph that feels like it’s coming straight at the ear of a right-handed hitter. Needless to say, it’s an uncomfortable at-bat.
The fastball movement was downward, and in my two April looks, Lawrence beat lefties with the heater on the outer-third of the plate. He isn’t pinpoint to spots within the zone, but his velocity, angle, and movement are enough to give him some breathing room in the command department. His fastball plays as plus, with 70 velocity, 60 movement, and 45 command. An 87-to-91 mph splitter dominates A-Ball hitters playing off his fastball, as he’s able to release it through the same tunnel and generate separation and finish on the pitch down in the zone. Lawrence’s splitter is more a chase pitch than one he lands for early-count strikes; how well he’s able to incorporate secondary pitches such that better hitters can’t just sit fastball is the biggest determinant to Lawrence reaching his ceiling. So long as he’s able to keep it around the plate with more frequency as he gains polish and pro experience, the split can give him a big league caliber off-speed pitch to get swings and misses.
Lawrence could go to Denver right now and ROOGY on the strength of his fastball, presenting a high floor for an unheralded 12th-rounder out of Daytona State. The splitter’s consistency should take a step forward, giving the ceiling of a setup man that’s able to pitch in high-leverage innings.