Rays make USF pitcher’s dreams a reality

Former USF pitcher Brandon Lawson emerged as one of the Bulls’ best pitchers in 2016, leading all starters with a 2.50 ERA in 15 games. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

Since he first began playing baseball at a young age, Brandon Lawson dreamt of being drafted by an MLB team. 

Lawson’s dream became a reality Saturday when the former USF pitcher was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 12th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. 

“It was definitely the greatest moment of my life thus far,” Lawson said. “This thought has been going through my mind ever since I started playing baseball. 

“Now, I’m playing professional baseball and there’s still many more levels to go, but it’s a step in the right direction and a dream come true.” 

While his aspirations for professional baseball were realized Saturday, Lawson likely wouldn’t have even been drafted if not for the adjustments he made prior to the 2016 season. 

In 2015, Lawson appeared in 15 games for the Bulls, earning a 1-3 record along with a 6.35 ERA. In one start against Florida State that season, Lawson surrendered 10 runs on 10 hits in only four innings of work.

“No, I don’t think Brandon would have been drafted (without adjustments),” coach Mark Kingston said. “The corrections and improvements he’s made have allowed him to turn into a 12th round pick.”

Lawson, who was a three-time all-county pitcher in high school, navigated his way past his disappointing 2015 season with the help of some professional advice. 

“I really tried learning more about the game and how other people go about it when these things happen,” Lawson said. “I just tried to pique professionals’ minds on how they go about things. 

“My high school buddy Christian Arroyo was drafted in the first round by the Giants in 2013, so I talk to him a lot and ask how he goes about things. I’ve played against a bunch of kids who have been drafted already, and I stay in touch with a lot of them. 

“Last year, I wanted to fix all this so I got in touch with them, and they helped me with a few things here and there.”

The junior pitcher went to work in the offseason, adding strength to help improve his velocity and endurance in games, which Kingston said he noticed upon Lawson’s return to the team. 

Lawson’s improved physique was what coaches first noticed when he returned to campus, but he said the most notable improvement took place in his own head. 

“Going into summer ball, I kind of looked back and asked myself, ‘What do you really want to do?’” Lawson said. “’Do you just want to be a college baseball player and end your career here, or go to the next level like you’ve always told yourself you would?’

“So, I worked on a lot of things. I got my body in shape more than it had been before. 

But, I really worked on my mental aspect of the game more than anything else. Just how to handle adversity and control it when things don’t go your way and not let things keep getting worse from there. That’s really what I worked on this year.”

Lawson, whose quick success in 2016 came as a surprise to the coaching staff, was promoted to the role of Saturday starter by the second week of the season and blossomed into one of the best pitchers on the team. 

He finished the season with a 5-5 record and a 2.50 ERA in 101 innings pitched, leading the team in starting pitching categories such as strikeouts, innings pitched and ERA.

“Brandon has matured a lot over his three years of college, but especially this year,” Kingston said. “When he knew we needed to count on him a lot as a weekend starter, we definitely saw his maturity grow.”

Lawson signed his deal with the Rays on Monday and will begin playing for the Hudson Valley Renegades of the Class A Short Season League in Fishkill, New York when the season begins Friday.