This is the third in a four-post discussion series between Tomahawk Take senior staff writer Fred Owens and staff writer Benjamin Chase on the role of Alex Wood on the 2013 Braves. To see the first two pieces of the series, you can click here for Ben’s initial post and here for Fred’s initial response post.
Fred’s contention in yesterday’s article had a lot to do with minor league pitching and experience. The incorrect reference to the Tampa Bay Rays as an esteemed development organization refers to thoughts that are over a half-decade old, as it’s been that long since the Rays drafted and developed a player that appeared on their roster, no matter draft position. The Rays did exceptionally well when drafting very early in the draft, but most minor league “experts” have drastically backed off the Rays as a system to be modeled. The Rays have a very similar pitching development system to the Minnesota Twins, but until recent, the Twins were not blessed with early picks to nab a guy like Price, and you see the effectiveness of developing pitching in the Twins system with similar promotional paths as the Rays used. In fact, the Rays and the Twins are two of the slowest developing organizations at promoting pitching, and neither has produced a pitcher with positive bWAR in the last 5 years from the draft.
All that said, there is value in some minor league pitching, but not once a player is purely dominating a level. The mental development of a player is just as important as the physical development in the minor leagues. Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks has stated that the best way to determine a player’s readiness for the next level is if he’s failing and how he handles that failure. Failure is a messy term in general, but in Parks’ description, he mentioned having a blow up inning or start and how a player responds. Wood has absolutely responded to any failure in the minor leagues and shown the mental side of the game is arguably TOO easy for him at the minor league level.
One of the major points that Fred hit on was minor league experience via innings pitched. He noted the number of innings in a manner of stating experience pitching innings in a season as important. However, one thing missed was that Wood had pitched with the University of Georgia into late in the college season before also pitching for the Braves in 2012. Wood pitched 102 1/3 innings for Georgia last year before pitching 52 2/3 for the Braves A-level club in Rome. This isn’t the old draft system where draft picks threw roughly 2-3 starts in the minor leagues/Arizona Fall League in the season they were drafted, so they only had 15-20 innings of professional experience on top of 100-125 innings of college pitching with a tremendous time off between those two pitching experiences. Instead of the old system, now pitchers end up pitching straight through the season, so 150 innings is truly 150 innings rather than 100 innings, an unrealistic break, and then 50 more. Wood has experienced pitching 150 innings in a season, which is typically the starting threshold that a team wants to work a starter to before promotion.
Regarding the minor league experience of the examples Fred mentioned, he neglected to mention one very important piece: when they entered baseball. Alex Wood was a college pitcher coming into the league. Of the examples he mentioned and cited their minor league innings pitched, only Mike Remlinger was a college pick (and he was a very odd case as he blew through multiple organizations struggling with major control issues, which added to his minor league time). Kevin Appier, Tom Gordon, Eric Gagne, David Wells, and Chad Billingsley were high school picks and Octavio Dotel, Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana, Pedro Martinez, Chan Ho Park, and Ugueth Urbina were international signings. High school picks and international pitchers by nature need much more development time, averaging 1.5 more seasons in the minor leagues than their college counterparts based on a recent study on Baseball Prospectus.
Lastly, I have never, and I will never assert that any of those players were “better” because they were used in the swing man role. My assertion is that the idea of developing Wood in the major leagues is not such a terrible thing and can, in fact, be a successful development path. The whole genesis of this is that the Braves have a major need for both a swing man and another bullpen lefty. Alex Wood can fill these roles and give him the experience at the major leagues that will require him to start pitching from major league holes rather than throwing through minor league ones.