The Atlanta Braves have long been known for their starting pitching talent and depth. From the five guys in the big league rotation all the way down to the rookies making starts for Rome and Mississippi, Frank Wren and company have put a continued emphasis on drafting and developing dynamite young arms. For guys like Alex Wood, it’s all about making Wren look like a genius when the opportunity arises. Let’s just say he’s well on his way.
Wood, a 22 year-old lefty from Charlotte, was drafted by the Braves in the second round of the 2012 draft after an impressive three-year stay at the University of Georgia. After spending most of the 2012 season with the rest of his draft class in Single A Rome, Wood has quickly found himself on the short list of Braves arms waiting to break into the MLB.
In 13 starts with Rome in 2012, Wood posted a 4-3 record with a 2.22 ERA in 52.2 innings. More impressive, perhaps, was the K/BB ratio that the young lefty posted in Rome, striking out 52 batters while walking only 14. Those gaudy numbers were enough to catch the eyes of Fredi Gonzalez and Wren, who promptly rewarded Wood with an invite to big league Spring Training.
In his first Spring Training since being drafted by Atlanta, Wood continued to excel, striking out big leaguers and high-level minor league prospects at an alarming rate. Through most of the spring, Wood featured an above average fastball, ranging from 93-96 MPH, and a devastating breaking ball, for which he gives credit to Braves relievers Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.
“I’m probably throwing the best, most consistent breaking ball I’ve ever thrown right now,” said Wood to Braves AJC beat writer David O’Brien in March. “I just started throwing a spike curveball in this camp. Just from talking to Jonny and Craig and them showing me how to grip it. It’s a breaking ball I can kind of throw the heck out of. That’s what I’ve been kind of searching for.”
For Wood, it may have been just the boost he needed to get to the next level. In 7 Spring Training innings, Wood struck out 3 batters and allowed just 1 earned run. For a young kid still trying to find his comfort zone in a professional baseball organization, Wood showed no signs of hesitation.
When the 2013 regular season began, it was a forgone conclusion that Wood would join fellow Braves phenom J.R. Graham in the Double A Mississippi rotation so that both could begin to work through the innings load of a typical starter. For Wood it would be just another test on his way to proving that he is big league ready. And yet again, he has passed it with little resistance.
In 6 starts with Mississippi this season, Wood has devastated hitters to the tune of a 0.58 ERA through 31 innings. Wood has even managed to improve his K/BB ratio from a year before, posting 38 strikeouts and just 7 walks thus far.
For Gonzalez and the big league club, who has seen a wide array of starts this season, it could be tough to keep Wood away for long, as he has made a convincing case for an MLB appearance sooner rather than later. Gonzalez has made it clear that he would prefer Wood to move through the minors and break in as a starter, rather than plugging a hole somewhere in the Braves bullpen, and with Brandon Beachy set to return to the rotation in June, Atlanta will already have to make a decision on one of the current starters. But make no mistake about it if Wood doesn’t make his debut sometime in September of this year, he will surely be vying for a spot next spring.