LOWCOUNTRY PROS

Lowcountry natives/residents in pro baseball:

Player School/Town Org. Last year

OF Daniel Aldrich Wando/Mt. Pleasant Yankees .225, 2 HR, 13 RBI in rookie ball

P Drew Cisco Wando/Mt. Pleasant Reds 5-7, 3.86 ERA at A

P Mike Cisco Wando/Mt. Pleasant Angels 4-4, 3.99 ERA at AA

C Nick Ciuffo Wando/Mt. Pleasant Rays .258, 0 HR, 25 RBI in rookie ball

P Ryan Connolly Bishop England/Charleston Astros 1-2, 5.22 ERA in rookie ball

P John Cornely Bishop England/Mt. Pleasant Braves 4-1, 3.38 ERA, 11 saves at A

OF Marty Gantt CofC/Mt. Pleasant Rays .267 7 HR, 65 RBI in Class A

OF Brett Gardner CofC/Holly Hill Yankees .273, 8 HR, 52 RBI in MLB

OF Justin Greene Stratford/Goose Creek D'backs .308, 1 HR, 30 RBI at AA

P Ryan Gunther Stratford/Goose Creek Braves 0-2, 2.54 ERA in rookie ball

P Michael Kohn CofC/Charleston Angels 1-4, 3.74 ERA in MLB

1B Chris McGuiness Citadel/James Island Pirates Played 10 MLB games for Rangers

C John Murrian Stratford HS Tigers .190, 4 HR, 17 RBI at Class A

P Austin Pritcher Citadel/James Island Tigers 3-4, 2.72 ERA in NY-Penn

1B Justin Smoak Stratford/Goose Creek Mariners .238, 20 HR, 50 RBI in MLB

C Matt Wieters Stratford/Goose Creek Orioles .235, 22 HR, 79 RBI in MLB

P Asher Wojciechowski Citadel/Beaufort Astros 9-7, 3.56 ERA at AAA

If the story hadn't really happened, somebody might have had to make it up.

When Joe Jackson reported for duty with the Class A Spokane Indians last year, his luggage was late in arriving. So Jackson, a fifth-round pick of the Texas Rangers out of The Citadel, had to borrow some cleats for his first workout.

That's right - Shoeless Joe Jackson's great-great-great nephew was himself "Shoeless Joe" for a day.

The start of Jackson's professional baseball career took another hit when he suffered a fractured right thumb before opening day, costing him almost half of his rookie season.

"I was in the bullpen and a ball in the dirt hopped up and hit me on the top of the left thumb," said Jackson, who was an all-Southern Conference catcher at The Citadel. "It was a small fracture, but all I could do was take time off and let it heal."

When Jackson was finally able to play, the 6-1, 180-pounder from Mauldin hit .215 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 45 games in the rookie-ball Northwest League - not the start he might have dreamed of, but solid enough.

As MLB teams prepare for the start of spring training, Jackson is among five former Citadel players who are facing key seasons in their pro careers.

. Jackson and pitcher Austin Pritcher, both drafted last year, have their rookie-ball seasons behind them and now begin the climb up the minor-league ladder. Pritcher, the SoCon pitcher of the year last season, was taken in the 19th round by the Detroit Tigers and was 3-4 with a 2.72 earned-run average and one save in the NY-Penn League last season.

. Chris McGuiness, who played in 10 MLB games with the Rangers last season, was traded to the Pirates, where he hopes to land a spot as a left-handed hitting first baseman.

. Pitcher Asher Wojciechowski, who won nine games at the Class AAA level last season, could make his MLB debut with the Astros this season.

. And outfielder Chris Swauger, a .280 hitter in six minor leagues seasons with the Cardinals, is still seeking that shot at The Show.

For Jackson, an injury-free season in 2014 is the first goal.

"I just want to stay healthy and have a good year," he said. "I want to develop as a catcher behind the plate. I've got great coaches to work with, great resources, and I really want to improve behind the plate. I know I can hit, and I know that that will come around and be a plus for me."

Jackson certainly proved himself as a college hitter, hitting .363 with 13 home runs and 67 RBIs for the Bulldogs. He was the MVP of the SoCon Tournament, the first player from a losing team to earn the award. He was 10 for 13, batting .769 in four games.

But it was Jackson who was at the plate when The Citadel's 6-5 loss to Elon in the championship game ended, still a painful memory.

"That was such an exciting time for me and my family," Jackson said at a recent Citadel practice. "And it still hurts. The more I come out here to see these guys on the team, the more it hurts. But I had to put it behind me and get started on a new phase of my career."

McGuiness, a 13th-round pick of the Red Sox in 2009, definitely begins a new phase of his career. He played in 10 MLB games with the Rangers last season, batting batting .176 with a double and an RBI in 34 at-bats.

Left off the Rangers' 40-man roster in the off-season, he was traded to the Pirates, who are in the market for a left-handed hitting first baseman. It will be the fourth organization and perhaps the best chance yet for the James Island High School product.

"I'm excited about it," said McGuiness, who hit .246 with 11 homers and 63 RBIs in 104 Class AAA games last year. "It's a new opportunity and a chance to get out of the Texas situation, where I was blocked pretty heavily. This organization has some potential for me to move around a little, so that's a good thing."

Like the rest of The Citadel's pro players, McGuiness knows he's got to perform to get where he wants to be.

"They don't just hand out jobs in the big leagues," he said. "But if I perform well and they don't sign anybody else, I think I have a shot. But I've got to produce in spring training."

Other pros from Lowcountry colleges also face key seasons in their careers:

. Pitcher Tyler Thornburg (Charleston Southern) seemingly established himself with the Brewers last season, going 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA in 18 games in MLB. But with the off-season signing of right-hander Matt Garza, Thornburg will have to battle in spring training to earn a roster spot.

. Outfielder Brett Gardner (College of Charleston) signed a one-year deal worth $5.6 million with the Yankees in the off-season, after batting .273 with eight homers and 24 stolen bases last year. But his future with the Yankees was cast in doubt when the club signed Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million deal and also added Carlos Beltran to a crowded outfield.

"It's hard to ignore it," Gardner told reporters about speculation on his future. "I try to tell my wife and parents and people like that not to bother me with it, but other people say, 'I heard this' or 'I heard that.' You can't help but try to run from it, but it always follows you."