3/6/2014 7:00 P.M. ET
Wood ready to cement promise flashed in 2013
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Once the Braves determined that they wanted to take Alex Wood with one of their first two selections in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, their legendary scout, Paul Snyder, made it known that the organization should not attempt to alter the left-hander's funky delivery.
"Paul said, 'When we take this guy, don't mess with him, it works for him,'" area scout Brian Bridges said. "'Just leave him alone and get out of his way.'"
Whereas other scouts shied away from Wood's delivery for fear it could lead to injuries or inconsistent stretches, because it would be hard to repeat, Bridges campaigned hard for Wood and convinced the Braves to select him in the second round.
"I've signed [Mike] Minor and a couple of other guys," Bridges said. "He's right there with them, makeup-wise. There's just something about that kid. People are attracted to him. He knows how to act. There was something about how those big league guys radiated to him last year in Spring Training [that] says a lot about what he does."
Less than a year removed from his successful career at the University of Georgia, Wood arrived at his first big league Spring Training in 2013 and immediately caught the attention of Tim Hudson and Kris Medlen, who marveled at the movement Wood created by a delivery that has been likened to the one used by White Sox All-Star Chris Sale.
After posting a 1.26 ERA in 10 starts with Double-A Mississippi, the 23-year-old got his first call to the Majors to fill a spot in the bullpen, which less than two weeks earlier had lost Eric O'Flaherty to a season-ending elbow injury.
Wood took advantage of the opportunity to prove he was ready for the Major League level after making just 24 starts in the Minors. He compiled a 3.13 ERA in 31 appearances (11 starts) for Atlanta last season and, in the process, caught the attention of the baseball world after posting a 0.90 ERA in five August starts.
His season was marred by the three disappointing September starts he made while battling fatigue near the end of his first full professional season. But that initial campaign was also filled with enough promise to give the Braves confidence that the upcoming season could be the first of many in which he proves to be a valuable part of their rotation.
"It's funny, because looking back on it, it happened so fast that it was almost a blur," Wood said. "But if you took the time from when I started at Mississippi to when I got called up, it seemed like an eternity. It got to the point where I was praying every night and telling myself to just trust the path.
"I think I definitely accomplished all that I wanted to accomplish last year. Being able to show them I could do it on a consistent basis was big for me. I think this year is about solidifying that."
Wood's ability to remain consistent has been questioned by many evaluators who saw the delivery he developed when he began pitching at the age of 9. To him it has always felt natural to briefly angle his right knee past his left leg as he coils and stretches his left arm back toward second base before shifting his weight toward the plate as he uncorks a pitch.
Fortunately, his high school coaches saw value in his approach and shared the opinion of Snyder, Bridges and other scouts who have come to recognize that it is does not matter how a pitcher begins his delivery as long as his balance is where it needs to be as the pitch is being unleashed.
"A bad delivery repeatable is better than a good delivery that is not," said one American League scout who saw a number of deliveries during his days as a Major League catcher.
Wood's ability to consistently repeat his delivery came courtesy of the countless hours he spent during the summer of 2011, focusing on making the adjustments that would allow him to avoid the inconsistencies he had experienced that year, his freshman season at Georgia.
As Wood analyzed the delivery of many of baseball's top pitchers, he realized the need to make his front side stronger by keeping his glove tucked tighter and closer to his chest during his delivery. This led him to place either a coffee mug or a water bottle in his glove as he completed 75 to 100 dry deliveries (from both the windup and stretch) five times a week during that beneficial summer.
"I think that really propelled me when I started the next fall, mechanically," Wood said. "I was throwing harder and spotting up better. That was probably the biggest summer of my life."
As he evaluated Wood during his freshman season, Bridges saw a great competitor whose mechanics created inconsistencies with his breaking pitches. A year later, when Wood went 7-3 with a 2.73 ERA in 16 appearances (15 starts), the scout saw an improved arm slot and, essentially, a totally different pitcher.
"To me he was a completely different pitcher, because he had more weapons," Bridges said. "He had better angle to his fastball and was throwing more strikes, which improved everything. When he got his arm slot up a little bit, it totally helped him. He got it away from his head where he wasn't pushing the ball."
Based on what he accomplished during his sophomore, Draft-eligible season, Wood thought for sure he would be selected during the first day. Although he wasn't, he still felt good about the fact that the Braves told him that if he could stick around until their second-round selection (85th overall), they'd give him a $700,000 bonus, comparable with what first-round compensation selections received that year.
Having the leverage created by the fact that he still had two seasons of eligibility, Wood was able tell other interested clubs that if selected in the second round, he would need a bonus greater than what he already knew he would receive from the Braves. Had he not been selected by Atlanta, he would have returned to Georgia for his junior season.
"It's funny how things work out, because I couldn't have asked for a better situation than to be picked by the Atlanta Braves and being where I am right now," he said. "So for me it was probably a blessing in disguise."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.