Power lefty Alex Wood came up and pitched a solid ninth inning yesterday, touching 95 on the gun and retiring three Torontonians on seven pitches. Atlanta’s second-round pick in the 2012 draft, Wood is the first member of the Braves draft class to make the majors.
So, who is he, and what can he do?
Wood has risen very quickly through the Braves system since being drafted a little less than a year ago. The Braves immediately assigned him to class A Rome, and he pitched 52 2/3 innings with a 2.22 ERA and a 3.71 K/BB; this year, he has thrown 57 innings at Double-A with a 1.26 ERA. In all, he’s got 109 2/3 IP in the minors, 1.72 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.76 K/BB. The Braves are rushing him to the majors because they need bullpen help, but he has thrived in the minor leagues.
Wood played two years at UGA, 2011 and 2012, but that’s because he was redshirted in 2010 following Tommy John surgery in 2009. After he was drafted, UGA’s fine newspaper, The Red and The Black, summarized his college career:
Wood, a 6-4, 220-pound native of Charlotte, N.C., was the 85th overall pick in the draft.
Wood posted a 7-3 record and 2.73 ERA in 15 starts for the Bulldogs who went 31-26. An All-SEC second team selection, Wood registered 100 strikeouts and 21 walks in 102.1 innings pitched with two complete games and a team-best seven pickoffs. His 2.73 ERA was the lowest by a Bulldog starter since 1989. For his career, Wood was 13-10 with a 3.57 ERA in 32 appearances including 30 starts. He had 180 strikeouts and 47 walks in 204.1 innings pitched. He went 6-7 with a 4.44 ERA in 2011 after being limited to just one outing in 2010 while recovering from surgery.
Everyone who sees him notes that he has an unorthodox delivery, and few seem to believe that he will remain a starter long term.
Ask anyone in Braves camp about Wood’s delivery and they’ll invariably mention the word “funky.” The 22-year-old southpaw coils backward, pointing his right knee toward second base, before launching forward with a giant stride. After landing, he completes his motion with a backward hop on his right leg… The Braves intend to develop Wood as a starter but realize his stuff could be even more effective out of the bullpen.
Whether he helps them as a starter or whether he helps them as a bullpen guy, either way if that kid can stay healthy, he’ll pitch in the big leagues… It’s a little funky, it’s a little awkward, but that’s tough. You talk to a lot of hitters and they don’t want to see funky and awkward, 6-foot-4 and 94 (mph) from the left side.
Coming out of college, the two biggest questions surrounding Wood were his funky delivery and the lack of a reliable breaking ball. While those questions remain, they shouldn’t be serious issues out of the bullpen… Showing setup potential as a reliever, Wood still has an outside shot to stick as a starter long term.
Wood now features a knuckle-curve, which he learned while in Major League camp during Spring Training, and it sounds like it is working pretty well so far… If the gains from adding a good breaking ball hold true, you are now looking at a left handed starting pitcher who would have three pitches which grade out as at least average or better (two plus), who has a tendency to get groundballs at a great rate.
The Braves have called Wood to the majors to fill an immediate need in the bullpen, and that’s fine. Many successful starting pitchers began their major league careers in the bullpen; there’s nothing wrong with that. Hopefully, later in the summer the Braves will be able to repopulate their bullpen and they will be able to send Wood down to the minors to stretch out and get back into starting again. Whether or not his long-term future is as a starting pitcher, the team will certainly want him to remain a starter as long as he can.
For now, though, it will be great to have another power lefty in the pen. Alex Wood is here, and he’s a heck of a pitcher already.