One year ago, Alex Wood was a University of Georgia pitcher preparing for the 2012 draft. Fast forward the calendar 12 months and he's still pitching in Georgia. . .but for the Atlanta Braves. It has been a rapid rise for this young southpaw, making him a good topic of study as today's Minor League Ball Prospect of the Day.
After throwing less than one inning as a freshman in 2010 due to Tommy John surgery, Wood took a key role on the Georgia Bulldogs staff in 2011, making 15 starts with a 4.44 ERA, posting a 79/25 K/BB in 101 innings with 116 hits allowed. This positioned him as a key prospect to watch for 2012. He met or exceeded all expectations, posting a 2.73 ERA with a 100/21 K/BB in 102 innings with 95 hits allowed over 15 starts. He was rated as a supplemental or second-round talent entering the '12 draft.
That's exactly where he went, picked by the Braves in the second round at 88th overall and signing for $700,000. Sent to Rome in the South Atlantic League for his pro debut, he dominated Low-A competition with a 2.22 ERA and a 52/14 K/BB in 53 innings over 13 starts. Moved up to Double-A Mississippi for 2013, he was even more effective with a 1.26 ERA in 10 starts with a 57/15 K/BB in 57 innings. Minor league competition wasn't challenging him, and having made a positive impression with Braves brass in spring training, he got the call to the major league bullpen last week.
Wood is a 6-4, 215 pound lefty, born January 12, 1991. 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.
Wood succeeded as a starter in college and the minor leagues, but many scouts see him as a reliever in the long run. His high-effort delivery is very unusual:
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. Add the durability concern to the mediocre breaking ball, and it is understandable that the bullpen may be his long-term role. Nevertheless, his platoon splits in the minor leagues were even, and his track record of success brought him to the major leagues very quickly.
If the Braves manage Wood's workload properly and the breaking ball continues to improve, he has a shot at being a mid-rotation starter no matter how weird his delivery is.