Height 5-11, Weight 165, B/T: R/L, DOB: 2/6/1987
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #19
Travis Wood took a huge step forward in 2009, establishing himself as one of the best lefthanded pitching prospects in all of the minor leagues.
In last year's scouting report on Travis Wood, I wrote the following in the conclusion:
"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."
The 2009 season was obviously going to be a significant data point for Wood and, fortunately, it didn't take him long to establish that his true level of performance was substantially higher than he demonstrated in 2008.
At the time, I thought his success was going to be driven by improvements in his curveball. He already had a plus change-up and a solid fastball, but to be an effective starting pitcher he was going to need a third pitch, a breaking ball, to change the hitter's eye level and give him an additional arrow in his quiver.
Of course, Wood's breakthrough to a new performance level actually came about by basically putting the curveball on the back burner. Instead of improving it, he went in an entirely different direction. In its place, he installed a shiny new cutter, which gave him a very effective third offering. Prior to the introduction of the cutter, Wood struggled to keep righthanded hitters from diving out over the plate to attack his fastball and change-up. He had a good fastball and a change-up with late fade, but the introduction of the cutter gave him a pitch to keep righthanded hitters honest. The addition of the cutter gave Wood offspeed pitches that move in each lateral direction. Instead of only having pitches that are straight or fade away from righties, the cutter enabled Wood to attack righthanded hitters with a pitch that broke in on their hands. The addition of the cutter enabled Wood to effectively work both sides of the plate and attack both left and right handed hitters.
In 2009, Wood was remarkable over two different levels. He started out in double-A Carolina, where he posted a 1.21 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 103/37 K/BB ratio in 119.0 innings and 19 starts. He had strong ratios, including a 2.8 BB/9 and a 7.8 K/9, which is a nice blend of power and control. His ERA was ridiculous and probably a touch lucky, as he boasted a .246 BABIP, 2.65 FIP, and most alarmingly an 82.8% strand rate.
If ever a performance warranted a promotion, it was Wood's. And, the Reds promoted him to triple-A Louisville to finish out the season. For Louisville, Wood posted a 3.14 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and a 32/16 K/BB ratio. His ratios weren't quite as strong as they were in double-A, as evidenced by his 5.9 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. His component stats regressed somewhat, as seen in his .273 BABIP, 3.96 FIP, and 79% strand rate.
Wood was one of the minor league leaders in ERA throughout the season, which was impressive given the large sample size, but also probably unsustainable in light of his overblown strand rate. Wood stranded runners at a much higher rate than is to be expected. Even so, it was a massive step forward for Wood who also managed to log a career high of 167.2 innings pitched. Unfortunately, Wood has neutral flyball/groundball tendencies, as evidenced by his 0.98 GB/FB ratio in 2009. Obviously, he would benefit by generating more groundballs in Great American Ballpark, but he may not have the repertoire to do it.
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. His fastball sits in the 88-91 mph range, which should be sufficient for a southpaw to be successful at the highest level. 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 an entirely other 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. And, of course, the newest addition to his arsenal is the biting cutter that he can command effectively inside the strikezone.
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, the good body coil, the toe pointed to the ground, and how he has effectively created energy while maintaining his body over his plant leg. 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 driving to the plate. He is hiding the ball well, which increases his deception as it increases the difficulty of the hitter in picking up the baseball.
In frame 6, he has driven off the mound and released the pitch. He gets good extension in his arm action. 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 finishes 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. Here is another look at Wood in action, courtesy of TheBamaone on YouTube:
Overall, as you can see, Wood has smooth and efficient mechanics. A few things that jump out at me in this video. First, the video better illustrates how he coils his leg kick to create potential energy. Second, his arm action is very smooth and easy. He's not a max effort pitcher and his arm action isn't herky-jerky. Finally, his body control is strong. He has good balance and never seems out of sync, as evidenced by his consistently strong finishing position.
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. While Wood does a nice job coiling up his body and driving off the mound, increased lower body strength may lower his risk of an arm injury.
Travis Wood took a big step forward in 2009 and his emergence gives the Reds a stable of quality pitching prospects that they have had in as long as I can remember. He lost out in the Spring Training battle for the 5th spot in the rotation to Mike Leake, so he'll head back to triple-A in hopes of winning a role in the majors. Ultimately, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo are likely finishing up their respective Reds careers, as both contracts expire after the 2010 season. The Reds hold a team option of $12.75M on Harang and $11M on Arroyo, but given their mediocrity and the wealth of cost-effective young pitching, it's difficult to imagine the team exercising either option.
Overall, the addition of the cut-fastball has made Wood a much more intriguing and legitimate pitching prospect. It remains to be seen if he has "enough stuff" to succeed at the MLB level, but a bit more development time should help him continue polishing his skills. As of now, many scouts still view Wood as having a ceiling of only a #4/5 starter, despite his awesome numbers in 2009. Regardless, Wood continues to strive to get better, as he spent the offseason working out with fellow Arkansas native Cliff Lee, which may have given Wood an extra boost of confidence and a greater understanding of what it takes to succeed at the highest level. Wood called Lee a "mentor" and he'd be hard pressed to find a better one. The Reds haven't had an effective southpaw in the MLB rotation in quite a while, but Wood and Chapman will be looking to change that in the near future.
Wood's cutter and stellar 2009 season are enough to land him at #4 on the list. I've always appreciated Wood's change-up and mechanics, but it's the cutter that could make all the difference for him.