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Prospect Retro: Kerry Wood

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Kerry Wood (AP photo)

Per Reader Request, a Prospect Retrospective of Kerry Wood

Kerry Wood was drafted in the first round of the 1995 draft, 4th overall, out of high school in Grand Prairie, Texas. He pitched just 7.1 innings after signing, fanning 7 but walking 6 and allowing 8 runs. He was rated as the best high school pitcher available in the draft class, possessing decent command and exceptional stuff. The only warning sign was a large workload during his senior year. I didn't give grades to recent draftees back then, but he would have likely rated a Grade B+ retrospectively.

In 1996, Wood went to Daytona in the Florida State League, going 10-2, 2.91 in 22 starts, with a 136/70 K/BB ratio in 114 innings. He allowed just 72 hits and 6 homers. He also spent a month on the disabled list with a sore elbow. Based on his excellent stats and scouting reports, I gave him a Grade A- in the '97 book, rating him the Number 12 prospect in baseball and the second-best pitching prospect (behind Jaret Wright). I also wrote about how Texas high school pitchers drafted in the first round (to that point in history) did not have a great track record. Between 1980 and 1990, nine Texas preps were drafted in the first round: Rickey Barlow, Jimmy Jones, Jackie Davidson, Wayne Dotson, Scott Scudder, Brian Bohanon, Todd Ritchie, Todd Van Poppel, and Robbie Beckett. None of those guys turned into the next Nolan Ryan.

Anyway, Wood started '97 by going 6-7, 4.50 in 19 starts for Double-A Orlando, striking out 106 but walking 79 in 94 innings. Promoted to Triple-A at mid-summer, he went 4-2, 4.68 in 10 starts for the Iowa Cubs, fanning 80 in 58 innings but walking 52. Excellent K/IP and H/IP ratios, but poor control kept his ERA over 4.00 at both levels. I gave him another A- in the 1998 book, but with further elaboration on his injury risk. I wrote:

He was healthy last year, but while his mechanics look smooth from behind home plate, if you watch him from the first base side, it looks like his motion puts some strain on the elbow. . .I don't doubt his ability, but if I wonder if he is being handled correctly, and if he will stay healthy.

Wood made one start for Iowa in '98, fanning 11 men and allowing no runs in 5 innings, then was promoted to Chicago. He went 13-6, 3.40 with 233 strikeouts in 167 innings in his rookie year. But as I feared, the elbow did eventually blow out.

At his best, Wood is one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball, but his command remains erratic and health concerns seem like a given most seasons.

Most Comparable Pitchers to Kerry Wood, through 2004, based on Sim Score and PECOTA (no active players included)

Stan Williams
Ernie Broglio
Kirby Higbe
Pete Harnisch
J.R, Richard
Len Barker
Jim Maloney
Jim Lonborg
Bill Singer