High School Sports

Four local products ready for their season in the minors

Asher Wojciechowski is an intimidating presence on the mound. He's 6-foot-4. And he has the arm to back it up.

Wojciechowski is a strikeout pitcher, dating back to his days at Beaufort High School and The Citadel. He's a hard-throwing right-hander. That's undoubtedly what caught the eye of Major League Baseball scouts last summer, when he was drafted 41st overall by the Toronto Blue Jays.

But if he has learned one thing in his short stint of professional baseball, it's this: Pitching successfully suddenly takes a lot more than a mid-90s fastball.

"The biggest difference is I can't just rear back and throw it as hard as I can," Wojciechowski said in a phone interview this week. "The biggest thing here is location. It doesn't matter how hard you throw it -- if you don't locate, you're going to give up hits and runs."

Wojciechowski is scheduled to make his season debut today for the Dunedin Blue Jays, Toronto's Advanced A squad. He made three starts last season before the Blue Jays shut him down with shoulder fatigue.

He is one of four minor leaguers with local ties hoping to move up the ladder of the professional baseball farm system.

A trio of former Hilton Head High standouts are with various major league organizations. Former Seahawks pitcher Ryan Kelly has been assigned to Myrtle Beach, the Advanced A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Third baseman Brian Harrison, who was drafted by the New York Mets last year, is still waiting on an assignment as he rehabs a shoulder injury. And pitcher Patrick Lawson is at the Detroit Tigers' minor league extended spring training site in Florida.

Kelly was traded twice during the offseason before landing in the Rangers organization. He opened the season Friday with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and closed out a 3-1 victory to earn a save in the team's season opener.

Kelly said switching teams -- and therefore philosophies, to a certain degree -- has required adjustments, but ones he is willing to make.

"It's a lot more competitive, and (in spring training) there was a lot more emphasis on winning, which I think helped prepare me for the season," Kelly said. "In the end, though, it's the same game. I just want to establish myself here and go out and compete."

Harrison said he hopes to be competing on the field in the next couple of weeks. An MRI on his throwing shoulder showed no structural damage, but doctors did find tendinitis.

The injury bug hit Harrison last year, as well, ending his season with the Savannah Sand Gnats, an assignment that remains a possibility for this year.

Harrison said hitting doesn't bother his shoulder, and he has served as the designated hitter in some minor league spring training games. The shoulder still isn't 100 percent, however, in terms of strength, he said.

"Not being able to put my best foot forward has been frustrating, but there's a lot to gain from it. I'm trying to be positive," Harrison said. "Once healthy, I'm still going to go out with the same enthusiasm and build on the success I've had."

Like Harrison, Lawson still awaits his permanent landing spot. The Tigers elected to keep the right-handed pitcher in extended spring training in Lakeland, Fla.

Lawson spent much of his offseason practicing and working out on Hilton Head Island with Kelly, his former high school teammate.

"The hardest adjustment is getting into the routine of doing the exact same thing every day and keeping your body in shape for it," Lawson said. "It's a long season, and your body gets tired. I think I've prepared myself for it."