Former Woodruff, University of South Carolina Star Pursues Professional Baseball Dreams
By: Garrett Mitchell, Staff Writer
The road to his professional baseball dreams has been a long and winding one for Graham Lawson. The former Woodruff star pitcher, with a blazing fastball and wicked slider, has finally reached his destination.
Lawson, a 2015 graduate of Woodruff High School, has agreed to a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs following a career at South Carolina marked by success on the mound, fraught with injury and recovery, and a final season cut short. Now, he is cleared to make his dreams of becoming a major league baseball player reality.
“It’s such a blessing [to sign a professional contract] and I’m very humbled,” said Lawson. “I’ve worked hard, and I think good things still happen for people who work hard. I just want to represent my community and my family the best way I can. The road hasn’t been easy, but nobody said it would be.”
Lawson, who was committed to Clemson during his senior season at Woodruff, saw his scholarship offer pulled following a coaching and regime change with the Tigers. Following a single season at Spartanburg Methodist College, Lawson signed with the University of South Carolina where he found immediate success with his devastation duo of pitches.
Lawson was selected in the 12th round of the 2018 MLB amateur draft by the Washington Nationals but ultimately decided to return to school. Then, in the middle of the ensuing season, it was discovered that he had a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) which would require Tommy John Surgery, essentially a ligament transplant in his elbow, with an estimated 18-month recovery time.
“I had never been injured before and missed a season,” Lawson said. “Still, it helped me prepare for my return by watching from afar. When I came back and threw my first pitch this year, it was unreal. I felt as good as I ever have.”
Following surgery and a grueling rehab, Lawson was able to make six relief appearances for the Gamecocks in 2020, compiling an 0-1 record with a sterling 1.50 earned run average with eight strikeouts in seven innings pitched. Back was his fastball, which Lawson said was averaging close to 95 miles-per-hour, and his prospects of being drafted once again were high.
The 2020 college season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, ending Lawson’s comeback campaign prematurely. Then, this year’s MLB draft was shortened from 40 rounds to five, meaning far fewer players would be drafted.
Lawson did, in fact, go undrafted. That, however, did not deter him as he begin to reach out to several major league baseball teams about the possibility of signing as a free agent. That is when a relationship with the Cubs begin to take shape.
“I did a lot of calling,” he said. “I started with a lot of my baseball friends who had already been drafted and were playing in the minor leagues to get some insight into the process. I talked to about 12 teams, one being the Cubs who I started developing a good relationship with. They showed a lot of interest and I was able to talk to their pitching director, Craig Breslow, who I have developed a great relationship with.”
After talking with Breslow and his family, Lawson decided the Cubs were the best fit and agreed to a free agent minor league contract. It was the Cubs’ plan for Lawson’s development that sold him.
“What they want to do with their pitchers really sold me,” added Lawson. “What they like to do is what I like to do in terms of my body and my pitches and pitching style. They want me to be a late-inning reliever. As soon as [the Cubs] called and offered me a deal, I called my family and my coach. I knew it was a good fit, so I went with the Cubs.”
Lawson still faces a somewhat uncertain start to his professional career. Despite the 2020 baseball season presently on hiatus due to the current health crisis, and with the prospects of a minor league season slim at best, Lawson did travel to Arizona in June to undergo a physical and officially sign his contract with the Cubs. The plan, he said, is to take part in a workout and conditioning program that each franchise is tailoring to each of their players while awaiting a return to competition.
As he begins his journey as a professional baseball player, Lawson added how thankful he is to be able to represent his town and his school back home in Woodruff.
“How many people can say they get to represent their hometown and their school at the highest level,” said Lawson. “I’m proud to be from Woodruff and proud to be a Woodruff Wolverine. I’m extremely blessed and want to make everyone back home proud.”
Lawson already has.