Height 5-11, Weight 166, B/T: R/L, DOB: 02/06/1987
2008 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #9
For Travis Wood, the 2008 season was the best of times and the worst of times. He enjoyed significant success early in the season, but struggled in the second half against more advanced competition. Even though he struggled at times in 2008, he still maintains a solid professional stat line with a 4.13 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and a 353/172 K/BB ration in 361.2 innings pitched. Wood joins Matt Maloney and Pedro Viola as the top southpaw prospects in the system.
It was truly a tale of two cities for Travis Wood in 2008, as he pitched exceedingly well for high-A Sarasota, but then pitched equally poorly for double-A Chattanooga.
At Sarasota, Wood worked 46.2 innings posting a 2.70 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 41/22 K/BB ratio, and a 1.16 GB/FB ratio. In his 9 starts, he posted a 3-4 record and was soon promoted to double-A Chattanooga.
At Chattanooga, Wood saw first hand why the jump from single to double-A ball is considered the most challenging in all of professional baseball. Wood pitched 80.0 innings, posting a 7.09 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 58/48 K/BB ratio, and a 0.85 GB/FB. The more advanced competition brought about a 2% increase in walks allowed and a 5.3% drop in strikeouts. Obviously, double-A competition was beyond anything Wood had seen before.
On the plus side, Wood was still young-ish for the league, as he was only 21 years old. So, he was facing more advanced and mature competition, which certainly accounts for his struggles. However, he'll have to bounce back strong in 2009 when he gets another crack at double-A to solidify his prospect status.
PITCHING MECHANICS AND REPERTOIRE
Wood still possesses the best change-up in the system, but his fastball velocity has never returned to the consistent 93-94 mph it attained in high school and his breaking ball continues to be inconsistent. Wood is still trying to refine his curveball, which can roll and stay up coming out of his hand. That said, Wood does possess a top notch change-up, which is one of the best weapons a pitcher can possess. The change-up is a true pitcher's pitch and one that fewer pitchers actually master than one might expect. It's one thing for a pitcher to succeed just by reaching back and cutting a good fastball loose, but it's entirely another thing for a pitcher to succeed by changing speeds and hitting his spots. The former is typically a thrower, while the latter is a pitcher. Wood features a circle-change that breaks down and away from right-handed hitters, which may make it a nice weapon for combating a heavy platoon split.
As I wrote last year, Wood possesses good, clean mechanics. His wind-up is carried out at a faster tempo than average, but it's not a concern because he manages to keep his body in sync. Here are some frames of his wind-up courtesy of "mwlguide:"
In frame 1, he starts off in a pretty standard ready position.
In frame 2, you can see that he begins his windup with the small side-step that is popular in the modern game, rather than the step back towards second. And, as to be expected, the small side-step is accompanied by bringing the glove to the chest (which you can also see in frame 2) and not over the head like in the good the old days. In frame 3, he is beginning his leg kick and demonstrates good body control and balance.
In frame 4, you can see the nice high leg kick and the good body coil. Note back in frame 3 how the line of his hips runs basically from 2nd base to home plate, while in frame 4 the line of his hips runs almost from 3rd base to 1st base. The high leg kick and coiling of the body enables him to store up energy to later impart on the baseball. In frame 5, he has already broken his hands and started to the plate. He is hiding the ball well, which increases his deception.
In frame 6, he has driven off the mound and released the pitch. He hasn't thrown against a stiff leg, which allows in frame 7 for his upper body to finish over his glove side leg. His body is squared up and he is in good fielding position.
In last year's scouting report, I wrote that one mechanical issue with Wood was his occasional tendency to pitch against a stiff glove side leg. Instead of getting out over the top of his plant foot, he occasionally throws against it, which results in his upper body being pushed back towards the rubber. You can see the difference in these two photos:
In photo 1, Wood has a bit more flex in the knee and he is able to get out over his front leg. However, in photo 2, you can see how he throws against a stiff glove side leg. Given the position of the glove side leg in photo 2, it will be very difficult for his momentum to carry his upper body out over the top of his legs. The stiff plant leg leaves no other option than to pitch against his leg. His momentum will not get out over the top of his legs, but rather will be checked and pushed back towards second base by the stiff plant leg. Not only may it lead to inconsistency in his pitches, but it may also increase the stress on his body, as pitching against a stiff leg is a bit jarring and the body won't be able to absorb or distribute the shock very well. He may be advised to shorten up his stride a bit, as throwing against a stiff front leg and failing to get out over your plant foot is often the result of over-striding.
Again, you can see his MLB scouting video here.
Overall, as you can see, Wood has smooth and efficient mechanics. One potential cause for concern, however, is Wood's slight build. He's only 5-11 and weighs in at 166 lbs. Given his height, he is not going to be able to pitch on a downward plane, which isn't ideal because his fastball only sits in the 88-91 mph range as it is. So, he may have to work harder to maintain acceptable velocity. It may benefit Wood to add more strength to his lower body, as that may help take some strain off of his arm and potential give him a tick or two more velocity on his fastball. The best and most efficient pitchers throw with their entire body, not just their arm. Wood does a nice job coiling up his body and driving off the mound, but increased lower body strength may lower his risk of an arm injury.
It's not uncommon for young prospects to struggle in their first taste of double-A ball. The competition level is a significant jump from high-A ball, so an adjustment period is only natural. However, Wood will have to demonstrate a better curveball if he is going to find success at double-A. The higher he climbs the ladder, the more varied his repertoire will have to be. He'll need to improve his polish on the breaking ball and maintain the 88-91 mph velocity on his fastball to compliment his stellar change-up, as pitchers have a much more difficult time finding success at the upper level by relying heavily on just one pitch.
It won't take long in 2009 for Wood to reveal whether his 2008 struggles at double-A were the standard struggles of a young prospect or symptomatic of his inability to command an effective breaking ball. Travis Wood still wields the best change-up in the system, but he'll need to show more than that to find success at double-A next year. For now, he checks in at #19 on the list.