Cody Laweryson was concerned about his future in professional baseball.
The Moscow, Maine, native and former University of Maine All-America East first team pitcher had a rough 2021 campaign in which he was 2-5 with a 4.91 earned-run average for the Class A Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League.
“It was a bit of a down year. I questioned things. I wondered if I was good enough to stay there,” said Laweryson, a 14th round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins. “I talked to the coaching staff about it, and they told me they trusted me.”
He had a productive fall for the Twins’ Scottsdale affiliate in the Arizona League, being named to the All-Star team, and after a shaky April in Cedar Rapids (7.27 ERA), he has had a breakout season that landed him in AA with the Wichita Wind Surge of the Texas League.
Now, a year after questioning whether he was good enough to keep pursuing professional baseball, Laweryson will get the start for Wichita in Saturday’s game against the Midland (Texas) RockHounds, the final series of the regular season. He will enter the game with a sparkling 0.82 ERA over 18 appearances with the Wind Surge since being called up on June 24.
He has a 5-0 record for Wichita and has allowed just 36 hits over 54 ⅔ innings while striking out 64 and walking just 13.
“My stuff is the same as it was last year. Nothing has changed. But I am more confident now,” explained the 23-year-old Laweryson.
He said he trusts his pitches: a four-seam fastball, change-up and slider, and that allows him to attack hitters.
Wind Surge pitching coach Peter Larson said Laweryson’s deceptive delivery has been one of the primary keys to his success. He lifts his glove high in the air and hides the ball behind his back before he releases it.
“The hitters can’t pick the ball up out of his hand. So just after he releases it, it’s right up there on top of them,” said Larson, explaining that it reduces the hitters’ reaction time.
Between Cedar Rapids and Wichita, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound righthander has thrown 89 ⅔ innings and allowed only one home run.
And his fastball isn’t overpowering. It is in the 89-92 mph range.
“I’ve always prided myself in keeping the ball in the ballpark,” Laweryson said. “Hitters have a hard time picking up my fastball. And even though I usually throw it up in the zone, I get a lot of swings and misses off it. Fortunately, they haven’t been able to get the barrel of the bat on it.”
His change-up has also been effective, especially against left handed hitters.
Larson said the disparity in velocity between his change-up and fastball — 76-81 mph for the change-up, compared with his 89-92 mph fastball — has made the change-up particularly difficult to hit.
His slider is a work in progress. It isn’t as consistent as he would like it to be. However, he noted that hitters still don’t usually make hard contact off his slider or his change-up.
Laweryson has been used in all situations this season: starter, spot-starter, long reliever and closer.
Larson feels that makes Laweryson a legitimate Major League prospect.
“He has been great. His versatility and the success he has been having will help him (move up the ladder),” said Larson, who was the pitching coach at the University of Albany for one season when Laweryson was at UMaine.
The Wind Surge begin playoff action next week and after the season Laweryson will return home to Moscow.
The midwest is far cry from his hometown but he has met someone in the organization who gives him a reminder of Maine: Wind Surge CEO and part-owner Jordan Kobrtiz, a Bangor native.
“When I introduced myself, I told him I was the only guy in this town who knows where he was from. I told him I was from Bangor. He burst out into laughter,” said Kobritz, who added that Laweryson has been amazing.
“He has helped us out tremendously,” said Kobritz, the former owner of the Old Orchard Beach-based AAA Maine Guides.
Kobritz eventually sold the Guides and spent 10 years with former Pawtucket (AAA) owner Lou Schwechheimer as part of the Caribbean Baseball Initiative, which tried to move the AAA New Orleans Zephyrs to Havana, Cuba. The effort failed following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
When Major League Baseball eliminated 42 minor league teams and dropped New Orleans to the AA level during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Wichita reached out to Schwechheimer and Kobritz to negotiate an agreement to move the team there.
The new ballpark, Riverfront Stadium, was ready in April 2020 but MLB canceled the season.
Kobritz had planned to just be a part owner and not be involved in the running of the team but Schwechheimer died of complications from COVID three months later.
“I was the only person in the [ownership] group who had any experience running a minor league baseball team so they asked me to step up and take over. I owed it to Lou.”
It was a struggle at first but he admitted that he is enjoying it now.
“I love minor league baseball. It gets in your blood.”