View Full Version : Reds can be patient with young pitchers (article on Leake and Wood)

02-25-2010, 12:56 AM
Reds can be patient with young pitchers
By John Fay jfay@enquirer.com February 24, 2010

GOODYEAR, Ariz. - A few years ago, Mike Leake and Travis Wood would have been much more than an afterthought when it came to the race for the starting rotation.

The Reds have long been a pitching challenged club. But this year - with the first four spots in the rotation set and some veteran candidates for the fifth spot - they can afford to be patient with their young prospects.

"I think you can afford to do it even if you don't have depth - for their sake," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "If it was determined they were ready, it would be no problem. But that's rare. They've got to go pitch."

Leake, the 22-year-old right-hander, was the club's No. 1 pick in last year's draft. His pro experience is limited to six games in the Arizona Fall League. He went 1-2 with a 1.37 ERA. Add that to the fact that he went 16-1 with a 1.71 ERA and seven complete games for Arizona State, and you get an idea of how polished he is.

"I don't think you're sticking your neck out by saying this kid is ready to compete at the higher levels of the minor leagues and challenge to be on a major league team quickly," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "In the same breath, you've got to say you've got to go out there and do it. There's a lot of guys you build up prematurely. That's unfair to him, a 21-year-old kid who is his first full season of professional baseball.

"I think he's a very polished kid and can pitch his way to force our hand."

Leake has the confidence to go with his record.

"The goal is to start as high as possible in the system," he said.

Leake's stuff is not overpowering. He pitches in the low 90s.

"I'm not nasty," he said. "But I'm able to throw it where I want it. Sometimes that's better than throwing hard. I'm able to pick apart hitters with my pitches."

Wood, the 23-year-old left-hander, had a breakthrough last year.

After he went a combined 7-13 with a 5.47 ERA in 2008 in stops at Single-A Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga, he was 13-5 with a 1.77 ERA in stops at Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville.

"It was just a matter of going out there and knowing you deserve to be there," he said, "having conviction in your pitches and knowing the guys behind you are there to help you out."

He was named the Reds' minor of league pitcher of the year.

Wood, the club's second round pick in 2005 draft, added a cut fastball in 2008.

"I had been working on a cutter the year before," Wood said. "I went to work on it in offseason, and it ended up being a big help to me last year."

Wood, at 5-foot-11, 163 pounds, is not overpowering. The cutter gave him an out pitch.

"It typically helped me with righties," Wood said. "But I used it to lefties, too. Throwing it with conviction, knowing that you can throw your pitches for strikes helps."

Wood started last season at Carolina where he went 9-3 with a 1.21 ERA. He allowed 78 hits, 37 walks and struck out 103 in 119 innings. His success continued at Louisville - 4-2, a 3.14 ERA in eight starts.

"(The success at Triple-A) was a boost to my confidence," Wood said. "But it was different. The hitters are more experienced. You have to make your adjustments, knowing they're going to be more patient than the level below. You have to figure out where their point is to where you can still get them out."

Baker is getting his first look at Wood.

"The reports have been good about him," Baker said. "I had never seen him until here. People here like his stuff. I talked to him. He's been working out with (Cliff) Lee in Arkansas, which has got to be good for him."

Still, Baker lists the chances for Leake and Wood to make the club at "outside."

"Let's not get in too much of hurry to rush them up here," Baker said. "I've seen too many ruined by rushing them. I've seen a few make it, but not many. The No. 1 thing they have to get used to is pitching every fifth day for six months. It's not like college."


02-25-2010, 07:48 AM
Thanks for the article. Our future staff is promising indeed.

02-25-2010, 07:23 PM
Wood eyeing fifth spot in rotation
Pitching prospect worked out with Seattle's Lee in offseason

By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com

02/25/10 6:30 PM EST

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Travis Wood doesn't know yet just how close he is to reaching the Major Leagues. Depending on how this camp goes, it could be very, very close. But during the offseason, the Reds' left-handed pitching prospect knew he lived a mere five minutes from a Cy Young Award winner.

If anyone could help bridge the gap from Minors to Majors for Wood, it'd be All-Star lefty Cliff Lee. Wood and Lee worked out together during the offseason in Benton, Ark.

"He's a good mentor and a great guy. I learned a lot from him," Wood said. "It was nice to have somebody of his stature to workout with and pick his brain."

For the second straight offseason, Wood was able to draw on the experience of Lee, who was the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner for the Indians. Last year, he pitched in the World Series for the Phillies and this spring, he is with the Mariners after an offseason trade.

Lee was less a Svengali to Wood and more of a quiet example to follow. There were no new pitches taught or grips of the ball to emulate.

What did Lee tell Wood?

"We actually pretty much throw the same pitches. I already had it," Wood said. "[It was] just confidence to go out there and know you deserve to be there."

"For me, it's good to have someone to work out with," Lee said. "In a way it makes sure I do everything because I can't lead him astray. In a way it is good for both of us. I just did what I do and he kind of followed along. I didn't really teach him a whole lot, but showed him what I do and hopefully he takes it and runs with it. He has the skills."

This is Wood's first big league camp but he's got a legitimate, albeit outside, shot to make the Major League roster. With the 2009 season he put together, the 23-year-old earned the opportunity to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation.

"Our reports have been good about Wood. I talked to him," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "I have never seen him pitch until here. I've heard a lot about him. People here like his stuff."

In 27 starts combined at Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville, Wood went 13-5 with a 1.77 ERA, 53 walks and 135 strikeouts in 167 2/3 innings. His 9-3 record and 1.21 ERA was good for making him MiLB.com's Double-A Starting Pitcher of the Year. The season was a turbo boost to Wood's career. A 2005 second-round Draft pick, he was 7-13 with a 5.47 ERA in high A ball and Double-A, which prompted the organization to have him repeat at Chattanooga last year. In 2007, he was limited to 12 starts in high Class A because of a strained rotator cuff.

A 5-foot-11 and 163 pounds, Wood lacks the power fastball but always had a changeup as his best weapon. But his success really picked up last season because he added a cut-fastball to offer right-handed hitters.

"It helped a lot," Wood said. "It gave me more conviction and more confidence to throw strikes. I'm saying 'here it is. I'm throwing it up there for you to hit it. I'm not trying to trick you.' After the 2008 season, I went into the offseason and thought about it a lot. That's when I decided you can't be scared of hitters. Go right after them. Don't give them too much credit. Throw strikes and let the guys work behind you."

Wood, who was also the organization's Minor League pitcher of the year, is competing against Micah Owings, Aroldis Chapman, Matt Maloney, Justin Lehr and Mike Lincoln for the fifth spot.

With the exception of Chapman, Wood has the least experience of the contenders. He only has eight Triple-A starts under his belt and Chapman has none. But Wood doesn't have overpowering stuff like Chapman.

More than anything, the selection will likely come down to who his pitching the best in camp and spring games.

"It doesn't add any pressure to me," Wood said of the battle during his first camp. "I'm just going to go out there every day and give everything I've got. The choice is up to them."