I bought another program over the weekend on my visit to Cincinnati to watch the Reds and Phillies. In the program it features a two page profile of Reds prospects. The April version featued stories on Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, Tyler Pelland, and Adam Rosales. I typed out the posts on Reds Live last time, here is a link to it. This time the stories main feature is on Travis Wood, and it also highlights the top players on each of the Reds minor league teams. This one will take a little while longer to type, but here it goes.
by Jarrod Rollins
Nothing excites a scout more than a left-handed pitcher with life on his fastball, which is why Travis Wood created considerable buzz during his senior year at Bryant High School. The six-foot southpaw showed he could maintain his fastball in the low-90s and managed to touch 95 at times. A high school pitcher - especially a lefty - who puts up those numbers on the radar gun typically has his ticket punched for the early rounds of the draft.
Despite signability concerns that some teams had due to his commitment to the University of Arkansas, the Reds gambled and selected Wood with their second round pick (60th overall). Surprisingly, the Reds and Wood were able to come to an agreement fairly soon after the draft, and the 18-year old was in the fold as one of the club's next great hopes on the mound.
Wood was assigned to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Reds to begin his pro career. The left-hander impressed his coaches right off the bat, but even then no one could have predicted how dominant he would be out of the gates. How dominant? Wood held opponents scoreless for the first 17 2/3 innings of his career.
While the diminutive southpaw did finally allow a few opposing runs to score, Wood's numbers in the GCL were staggering: an 0.75 ERA in eight games with 45 strikeouts and just 13 hits allowed in 24 innings of work.
Seeing the way Wood overmatched GCL hitters, the Reds made the move to promote him to Billings for the remainder of the season. The caliber of competition was much different in the Pioneer League, where most rosters are filled with college draft picks and previous draftees who struggle early in full-season ball.
"I knew it would be a lot tougher after the promotion," Wood said. "It's mich different facing hitters coming off three or four years in college than guys right out of high school. The age difference can be a big adjustment."
Fortunately for the Reds, Wood made that adjustment well. In six games (four starts), Wood racked up a 2-0 mark with a 1.82 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings of work, while allowing only 15 hits for the Mustangs.
All told, Wood's first professional season was an unmitigated success. Wood's combined ERA was 1.29 in 14 games, while he totaled 67 punchouts in 48 2/3 innings without allowing a single home run. Another telling sign was the miniscule .166 batting average opponents mustered off the lefty.
"Last year definitely gave me the confidence to know what I can do and what my limits are, " Wood said. "I know I can compete out there."
So far, that confidence has carried over to 2006, with Wood continuing to baffle minor league hitters. Pitching for the Dayton Dragons in the low Class A Midwest League, Wood came away with two wins in his first four outings of the year. Although his ERA stood at 3.57 after those starts, Wood allowed only 17 hits and picked up 22 Ks in 17 2/3 innings, including 10 strikeouts over five scoreless innings in a 2-1 win on April 11.
Perhaps the best trait Wood possesses is an advanced knowledge of pitching, having already mastered a change-up that might be the best in the farm system. The 19-year old also recognizes what he needs to improve in order to reach his full potential.
"The curveball is the pitch that has needed the most work from high school to last year," Wood said. "I need to keep working on all my pitches but emphasizing the curveball."
By mixing that mature approach to the game with the physical tools in his left arm, Wood appears poised to follow the same fast track as fellow top pitching prospect Homer Bailey toward Great American Ball Park in the years to come.
After missing virtually all of Spring Training because of personall issues in his native Venezuela, William Bergolla knew he needed a strong Triple-A to get his momentum from last season. Through the first 12 games, Bergolla had done just that, batting .283 with two homers and 10 RBIs.
Early in the season, right-hander Justin Germano proved to be the Bats' most consistent starter. In his first four starts, Germano held a 2-1 record with a 3.04 ERA. The 23 year-old's signature control was on full display, as he permitted just three bases on balls in 23 2/3 innings of work.
Acquired along with Germano for Joe Randa last July, Travis Chick struggled with his control(21 Ks/27 BBs) in his first Chattanooga stint last season. This year started off much better for the right-hander, who held a 3.26 ERA with 15 strikeouts and six walks through his first 19 1/3 innings of '06.
Free from the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, Joey Votto has resumed pounding the ball at first base. The strapping slugger crushed four homers with 11 RBIs in his first 19 games for the Lookouts, also picking up five doubles to push his slugging percentage near the .500 mark.
Just as Travis Wood has impressed since joining the Reds in the '05 draft, Sam LeCure has opened eyes on the mound as well. The former Texas Longhorn's ERA was a pedestrian 4.71 through four games, but the right-hander piled up 25 Ks and allowed just 17 hits and five walks in his first 21 innings after skipping the Midwest League.
In his third pro season, outfielder Cody Strait started off as hot as any Reds minor leaguer this season. Through 18 games, Strait was tops on the club with 13 RBIs and on the strength of four homers and nine doubles had a .600 slugging percentage. He was also a terror on the base paths, swiping his first 10 bags without being caught.
For the second straight year, Dayton fans have welcomed the previous year's top draft, and Jay Bruce is giving them quite a show. The athletic center fielder, who has drawn Jim Edmonds comparisons, blasted two homers with 11 RBIs and a .296 average through 18 games, with seven doubles and two triples mixed in.
On the mound, right-hander Carlos Fisher found a groove early for the Dragons as well. Another polished 2005 draftee, Fisher proved difficult for opponents to hit, allowing only 14 base hits in his first 21 2/3 innings. Through the first four games, Fisher was 2-1 and had a 17/5 K-to-walk ratio.