Welcome to the 2021 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2021. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.
★ ★ ★
No. 43, Justin Lawrence: -0.7 rWAR
No. 42, Ben Bowden: -0.6 rWAR
Anyone who puts on a baseball glove and uniform dreams of playing at the next level, whether that’s varsity, college, the minors, or, daresay, the Show. Eventually, we’ll all be told we can no longer play, but for a lucky few, the dream comes true. It’s always a long path, more winding for some than others, but once you arrive, the goal is to stay put.
For Ben Bowden and Justin Lawrence, it was the staying put that was the challenge.
Ben Bowden made the Opening Day roster but didn’t make his until game two of the season on April 2, 2021. It did not go well. He came into a 8-0 game in the sixth but allowed two baserunners in the seventh that eventually came around to score. That’s a 13.50 ERA to start his career, and it got worse before it got better. The 2019 Futures Game participant allowed runs in three of his first four career appearances, ballooning his ERA to 21.00 (not a typo).
He was able to settle down and establish himself a a reliable lefty in the ‘pen through early May, stringing together nine of 10 scoreless appearances. But he suffered from a left shoulder strain on May 15 and went on the 10-day IL the following day. When he recovered, the Rockies optioned him straight to Triple-ABQ for a few days before recalling him to the bigs. Thus began his regular shuttle up and down I-25.
Once a player is optioned once in a season, he can be moved between the majors and the minors as many times as necessary without affecting that player’s option status. So whether it was due to poor performance (as it was on June 27) or in order to make room on the active roster for other players coming off the IL (July 6), Bowden accumulated some frequent flyer miles as a consequence of the roster shuffle. After struggling in early September he was optioned on September 11 and was not recalled to the majors again.
Justin Lawrence had a tumultuous path to the majors, but a similar experience once he arrived. He made the Arizona Fall League in 2018 after a stellar campaign across two levels in Single-A. But he struggled in 2019 and was suspended for performance enhancing drugs for 80-games, which ended up covering the entire 2020 season. He finally got the call on April 29, debuting with a hit, walk, and strikeout but no runs in the eighth inning on the road. He struggled a bit in his next few appearances and got optioned for the first time on May 9. He would bounce back and forth five times before the season was over, sometimes as the 27th man for a doubleheader, others as an injury replacement.
In an interview back in June, both players mentioned the challenges attached to the I-25 shuffle and trying to learn to pitch at Coors from veterans and from pitching in the
Pacific Coast League Triple-A West. But how their dreams will continue in 2022 remains unknown. As one of only four lefty relievers on the Rockies current 40-man roster (Lucas Gilbreath is the only other one with MLB experience), Bowden’s position on the team next year is likely secure.
Justin Lawrence, meanwhile only made one appearance after August 1 and it did not go well (four batters faced, three earned runs on September 1 against the Rangers). His gaudy 8.64 ERA is balanced by a 4.55 FIP, thanks in part to striking out over a batter per inning. And anyone who can touch triple digits on the radar gun will warrant opportunities. But unless he can limit baserunners (2.40 WHIP in 19 appearances), he may be confined to occasional trips to the Show.
On the bright side, assuming they both had good frequent flyer programs in 2021, they may be able to take a nice trip this offseason.