On Friday afternoon, Casey Lawrence drew the start against the Tigers, and pitched well again. The 29 year old has thrown well in Grapefruit League action, and is starting to turn some heads.
With Marcus Stroman off to pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, the Blue Jays turned to Casey Lawrence to start Friday’s Grapefruit League game against the Detroit Tigers. Lawrence had been impressive in his prior outings, and once again showed that he might be a late-bloomer to consider this season.
On Friday, Lawrence pitched 3 scoreless innings, allowing 2 hits and 2 walks, while also striking out 4 Tigers. Including his 3 earlier spring appearances, Lawrence has allowed just 1 run thus far, a strong showing from a somewhat unlikely candidate in March.
The 29 year old veteran spent last season split between Double A and Triple A, and has seemingly turned a corner in his development, late in his career. Over the course of 7 professional seasons spent in the minors, Lawrence hadn’t been able to crack an MLB roster, and as the age of 30 approaches, it usually doesn’t get easier for “prospects”.
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He signed with the organization in 2010 as an undrafted free agent, and has slowly but surely worked his way up the system. However, with a 12-14 record and a 5.15 ERA over 27 starts in 2015, the Pennsylvania native knew he had to start producing soon, or it would be harder to keep a job in baseball, even in the minor leagues.
Prior to last season, he made some mechanical adjustments that seem to be paying off for him. He reportedly gained a couple miles an hour on his fastball, a development that has drastically helped his repertoire out on the mound.
In 2016, he lowered his ERA to 4.17 (keep in mind the hitters’ haven that is the International League, and was even more impressive in limited stints at Venezuelan Winter ball, with an ERA of 2.48 over 6 starts.
In an interview with MLB.com, John Gibbons expressed some optimism for Lawrence’s future with the club.
"“He’s really got our attention. The guys in the organization raved about him last year. He’s picked up some velocity. He really turned into a new guy, and we’re counting on him sometime this year, whenever that may be.”"
“Whenever that may be” is probably the key phrase for the likeable veteran. While he might be able to contribute in the bullpen for the Jays this season, it’s highly likely he’ll start the season in Triple A Buffalo, as a member of the starting pitcher’s depth chart.
The Blue Jays may have 5 virtual locks in the rotation to begin the year, but it’s rare to see a team have as healthy a season as they enjoyed from their starters last year. If and when someone needs a breather, it could be Lawrence’s time to shine. An opportunity he’s waited an awfully long time for.
"“As a kid, you wake up, you’re dreaming about playing in the big leagues. That’s something I’m working toward and trying to get better every single day.” – Casey Lawrence"
Not every baseball prospect makes an appearance in the MLB, and even fewer undrafted signees ever see the opportunity. For Lawrence, if and when that happens, it’ll be an opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his hard work, and determination not to give up on his dream, even as he approaches 30.
It’s pretty hard to root against a guy like that. We’ll be waiting for ya, Casey.