Asher Wojciechowski Doesn’t Take Anything for Granted

Asher Wojciechowski has had a weird career. The 31-year-old Orioles right-hander has been with eight different organizations in 10 professional seasons. Moreover, this is his second stint with Baltimore in less than two years, with a pair of teams sandwiched in between. All told, Wojciechowski has worked 161 innings over 47 big-league appearances, with a 5.76 ERA and a 5.13 FIP.

He was a supplemental first-round pick in 2010. But while the Toronto Blue Jays liked the Citadel product enough to draft him 41st overall, they didn’t like him enough to let him be. The following spring, Wojciechowski was asked to change his identity.

“At the time, their philosophy was sinkers at the bottom of the zone, and sliders and cutters off of that,” Wojciechowski explained. “Everything was bottom of the zone or below. I’d never pitched like that. In college, I’d been a four-seam/slider guy, a swing-and-miss guy. The Blue Jays tried to turn me into a sinkerballer.”

That happened a month into the season. Following a bad outing, Wojciechowski was asked to sit down with his pitching coach and Toronto’s pitching coordinator.

“They were like, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about dropping your arm slot and having you throw two-seamers, start really sinking the ball,’” Wojciechowski recalled. “I figured, ‘All right, they did this with Roy Halladay and it worked tremendously with him; I guess they’re trying that with me, too.’ Being in my first [full] season of pro ball, I wasn’t going to say no.”

What followed was “probably the worst two months of [his] professional career.” Rather than turning him into the next Roy Halladay, the ill-advised urging had turned him into a piñata. Battered and bruised, Wojciechowski reached a point where he “wasn’t going to do this anymore.” The Blue Jays acquiesced. Rather than forcing him to try to be something he wasn’t, they told Wojciechowski he could go back to what had got him there in the first place. He proceeded to “flip the switch,” and finish the season strong.

Then he got traded. The following summer, Wojciechowski went to Houston as part of the multi-player deal that included J.A. Happ and Joe Musgrove. The Astros weren’t yet at their analytical apex, but they were savvy enough to let the 6-foot-4, 235 pound righty focus on what he does best. All these years later, he believes that approach is paramount to any pitcher’s success.

“My biggest takeaway over 10 seasons — seven of those being in the minor leagues — is that you have to understand yourself,” Wojciechowski told me. “That can take time, but ultimately you have to know what your strengths are, and not try to change how you go about it.”

His rollercoaster ride across organizations hasn’t included a repeat of what happened in Toronto. As the native South Carolinian put it, “When teams draft you, they’re going to try to mold you into what they want you to be. But once you get past that, it’s about competing and putting up zeros. I don’t recall having any in-depth conversations about pitching philosophy since probably Houston. It’s mostly just been ‘go out and get outs.’”

Thoughtful conversations have taken place inside his cranium. Given his itinerant journey, that’s been out of necessity.

“Having been with so many organizations, I’ve had to become my own biggest critic, kind of my own coach,” said Wojciechowski. “I’ve had to know myself even more, because I haven’t been able to work with the same people. I’ve worked with so many pitching coaches, and played for so many different managers, that I’ve had to learn to critique myself.

That doesn’t mean he’s become a lone wolf, unwilling to listen to advice. Wojciechowski thinks highly of Doug Brocail, who’d tutored him in the Astros system and is now his pitching coach in Baltimore. Another positive influence has been Rigo Beltran, who he was with in Triple-A for part of last season. That was in the Cleveland system, which is notable because Wojciechowski had been an Orioles farmhand less than a year earlier. Again, his career path has been a little weird.

Since being placed on waivers by the Astros in 2016, Wojciechowski has hopscotched from the Marlins to the Diamondbacks to the Reds to the Orioles to the White Sox to the Indians, and back to the Orioles. The last of those transactions came on the heels of strong performances under Beltran’s watchful eye.

“I had an opt out on July 1,” explained Wojciechowski. “It was essentially us sending out an email to all 29 teams saying I was available for a big-league opportunity. The only way I’d be let out of my contract was if a team was going to put me in the big leagues. Baltimore did that.”

That it was the Orioles came as a surprise, but only until he thought about it. While he hadn’t received a call-up from his “new” team in 2018, that was under an old regime. Mike Elias was in the Astros front office when Wojciechowski was there, and along with the memories — five Houston outings among them — the Orioles’ GM had been following his progress. Along with the hurler’s success at the Triple-A level, he’d largely held his head above water with the Reds in 2017.

The winter leading into his 25-game stint with Cincinnati was the turning point in his career. Unhappy with how his body was feeling at age 27 — “nagging injuries, like back spasms and a biceps strain” — Wojciechowski began training harder. And smarter. Olympic lifts became part of his routine, as did mobility drills. And then there was the mental adjustment. After six-plus seasons of trying to find his true identity, the time had come to toss caution to the wind.

“I decided to just start letting it rip,” explained Wojciechowski. “It basically became, ‘I’m going to throw it by this guy’ and ‘I’m going to throw my slider and he’s not going to hit it.’ That was going to be my mentality. And not just in games, but in my training and my throwing, as well. ‘Every day could be my last day’ became my mindset.”

Which circles us back to — queue up the Grateful Dead — the long strange trip it’s been. Even after the epiphany, he continued to change addresses. But while the uniforms remained a moving target, the driving force remained firmly in place.

“I was having a good spring with the Diamondbacks [in 2017], but they released me,” said Wojciechowski. “I got signed by the Reds and pitched well in Triple-A, then got called up. So I was seeing some results. So while I kept getting released and picked up, released and picked up, my mindset stayed the same. I’m not going to take a day for granted.”

We hoped you liked reading Asher Wojciechowski Doesn’t Take Anything for Granted by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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brentdaily
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Asher was just interviewed on Pitchers List. Seems like a good dude who is still working hard at his craft. I hope he has a great year.