It’s been quite the ride for Justin Lawrence, who suddenly finds himself as the Colorado Rockies closer.

A few years ago, he was turning heads with what seemed like Tall Tales from Spring Training. He had this lightning fastball and what appeared to be an unhittable slider coming from a ridiculous arm angle.

He was just a kid getting his first taste of competition against some of the best hitters in the world… and he was making them look silly.

Like with almost all prospects, it was still a long road to the Bigs for Lawrence who had plenty of ironing out left to do in the minors. But few who have come through this organization in the last decade have showcased such immediate and obvious raw talent.

Fast forward to a year ago. It was all about trying to stick at the MLB level and it didn’t always go according to plan. 

Bouts with wildness saw him bounce back-and-forth between Denver and Albuquerque, but it was clear, even from his very first couple of pitches in MLB that the stuff was there. But so were the clear criticisms.

Speaking just after the start of the season, he told me, “I got tired of seeing for the past few years ‘he has all this stuff’ or ‘he has the potential to be good’ or ‘he could have a long career’ y’know? All these ifs… Let’s turn it into ‘alright he’s here. This is the guy we thought he could be and he’s going to be it for 162 games this year.”

Well the season isn’t over and no reliever in the history of this game can claim to have had a spotless campaign but Lawrence has been about as steady of a contributor as it would be reasonable to hope for, let alone considering a rookie competing as a closer at Coors Field.

So far he has pitched 61 innings with a 3.84 ERA and a 132 ERA+ meaning that he has been approximately 32 percent better than the league average. And until the last month, he had been quite a bit better than that, converting seven saves and blowing just one.

Over his first 37 innings of work, he posted an ERA of 2.28 and an ERA+ pushing 200 while striking out 37 batters and walking 18.

He attributes this early success to the focus he brought into this year.

“Just confident in the work that I put in the offseason,” he says. “My mechanics have been relatable and that’s been a big thing for me.”

When he was made the closer, following some struggles by both Pierce Johnson and Daniel Bard, Lawrence was quick to take that as even more fuel for his fire.

“Seeing the trust and confidence that my coaches have in me, that my teammates have in me, that really helps me out a lot with my confidence, knowing that I’m meant to be in that position and get the job done.” he says.

Throughout this year and last, the electrifying Lion of Panama (h/t to Evan Lang of Purple Row for that nickname) has become a fixture on highlight reels and pitching twitter for the absolutely ridiculous swings his sweeper can induce from seasoned hitters.

I ask if that adds to the confidence.

“Add is the word,” he replies. “As you come up and face some of these top tier guys for the first time, thinking about how they are some of the best hitters in the world… when you could go out there and not only get them out but get them out in a fashion where people are tweeting about it? It adds to the confidence, it adds to my belief that I belong here. 

He’s had a rough go of it since July 25 when he blew his just second save of the year. He’s been tagged four more times since then, including the night before the publishing of this piece.

After that first big loss, Lawrence took to Twitter to respond to some hate messages he was receiving, stating as part of an inspirational thread, “Don’t be a part of the problem, especially one man to another. The only justification for ever looking down on a brother is to pick him up.”

There’s a little over a month left to play and these last several games haven’t gone anywhere near how Lawrence wanted them to go, but all signs are pointing to an electric arm connecting to a growing and mature pitcher who understands already that baseball is an extremely humbling game.

Some fans may be shaken in their belief about what Lawrence can achieve in the future, potentially on a team that is a bit more competitive, because of his last month. But these are the times to take these lumps. These are the times to learn these lessons.

All told, even including the last several weeks, Justin Lawrence is still a reliever dealing with closing out MLB ballgames for the first time in his career while also navigating the uniqueness of Coors Field and an avalanche of injuries all around him, constantly increasing his workload.

But for the first 37 innings he threw this year, he was one of the best relievers in all of baseball. He knows he has that in there, it’s just about bringing it out as often as possible.

“Doesn’t really matter where I’m playing, who I’m playing with, it’s just a matter of going out and executing,” he says.I know it’s an uncomfortable at-bat. I’ve got the edge before the at-bat even starts.”

The next step is maintaining that edge throughout the marathon baseball season at which point he will become one of the most feared pitchers in the game.