by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Last season the Braves had incredible success when they shifted Kris Medlen from the bullpen to the rotation. Could they be looking for a repeat performance, this time with Alex Wood as the star? He is slated to start today against the Mets in what could be an audition for a spot in the rotation the rest of the way.
Yesterday’s injury to Tim Hudson, who is out for the season with a broken ankle, makes the Braves need in the rotation that much greater. It wouldn’t be surprising if the team went out and added a veteran presence at the trade deadline, but even if they do there should still be an opportunity for Wood to grab a rotation spot.
While Brandon Beachy is closing in on his return, Medlen has virtually pitched his way out of the rotation given his recent struggles. That still could mean Wood will ultimately be the odd man out, once Paul Maholm returns from the DL, but Maholm was the owner of a 4.41 ERA and 1.39 WHIP prior to landing on the DL. There also is currently no word on when he may return, so there is every reason to believe that a strong showing from Wood will lead to an extended shot.
Drafted in the second round in 2012, Wood has produced a 1.88 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8.95 K/9 and 2.43 BB/9 over 114.2 innings in the minor leagues. Wood, who does have good stuff, relies on a lot of deception for his success. Check out this description of his delivery from Baseball America (who ranked him as the team’s seventh best prospect heading into the season):
“He also employs a funky delivery in which he hops backward on his right leg after landing on it, though he does throw strikes.”
John Sickels of Minor League Ball (click here for his review of Wood posted last month) added this:
“It is deceptive and he repeats it well, but scouts worry that the recoil stresses his elbow, back, and legs. As noted, he’s already had Tommy John, and his ’12 season ended a week early due to a strained back muscle.”
Long-term that’s concerning, but in 2013 his success will be tied more to his ability to throw a breaking ball as opposed to his delivery. He’s had success as a relief pitcher thus far, with a 2.45 ERA and 10.64 K/9 over 22.0 IP (he did make one start). Can he maintain an average 94.0 mph fastball in the rotation, though? Not likely.
He also has excelled mainly with just two pitches. First, here’s the scouting report from Baseball America prior to the season:
“Wood pounds the strike zone on both sides of the plate with a low-90s fastball that touches 96 mph. He does a good job of working off his heater, then destroys hitters’ timing with his above-average changeup. He can fall in love too much with his changeup at times. Scouts have two concerns with Wood: his breaking ball and mechanics. He struggles to throw his below-average slider for strikes and may need a better third pitch in order to remain a starter.”
Just last month Sickels had this to say:
“As a starter he works in the low-90s, with slightly higher velocities when used in the bullpen as the Braves have done so far during his brief major league exposure, averaging right around 94. His out-pitch is an above-average changeup that’s devastating when his command is on, which it usually is. His slider is mediocre; it is better than it was two years ago, but the fastball/changeup combination will always be his mainstay.”
They basically say the same thing, Wood is still basically a two-pitch pitcher. That can play well in relief, but it’s not quite as easy in the rotation. While he could have some success, it’s an awful lot to ask from a rookie.
The Braves caught lightning in a bottle last season, but it’s hard to expect tha again. In deeper/keeper formats his upside makes him worth adding, but don’t grab him expecting a must start option.
Sources – Minor League Central, Minor League Ball, Baseball America