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May 30, 2013

The Call-Up

Alex Wood

by Jason Cole and Bret Sayre

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The Situation: With lefty relievers Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty both lost for the season to Tommy John surgery, the Braves are in need of bullpen arms. They’ve purchased Wood’s contract from Double-A Mississippi, adding the 22-year-old southpaw to the big-league bullpen for Thursday night’s game against Toronto.

Background: Atlanta’s second-round pick in last year’s draft, Wood was selected following a three-year career at the University of Georgia. He underwent Tommy John surgery as a freshman in 2010, but hasn’t had an injury hiccup since. Entering pro ball last summer with a mature fastball-changeup combination, Wood cruised through 13 starts in the Low-A South Atlantic League, posting a 2.22 ERA. He impressed during five relief appearances in big-league camp this spring and earned an assignment to Double-A Mississippi. The prospect continued his dominance with the M-Braves, allowing only eight earned runs on 41 hits in 57 innings, walking 15 and fanning 57.

Scouting Report: Wood’s advanced command of his lively fastball-changeup combination has enabled him to move quickly. His 60-grade fastball plays up a tick in relief; he worked at 93-95 mph, touching 96 in short bursts this spring. As a starter, Wood sits in the 92-93 range and reaches higher on occasion. His mid-80s changeup is close to becoming a second plus offering; the pitch has good life, and he throws it with deceptive arm action. Coming out of college, the two biggest questions surrounding Wood were his funky delivery and the lack of a reliable breaking ball. While those questions remain, they shouldn’t be serious issues out of the bullpen. His unorthodox mechanics add deception, and he’ll likely rely on his two money pitches while mixing in the occasional breaking ball in short bullpen stints. Showing setup potential as a reliever, Wood still has an outside shot to stick as a starter long term. His slurvy low-80s breaking ball has improved this season, showing average potential, and he repeated his delivery well enough in 10 Double-A starts.

Earlier this season, I posted scouting notes on the southpaw after watching him toss seven scoreless innings for Mississippi. To go with those, here is a scouting video.

Immediate Big-League Future: Wood will join the Braves’ middle-relief corps for the time being, but he has the potential to pitch himself into a bigger role. Given the club’s lack of left-handed relief options, he should have an opportunity to stick in the majors if he has success. Wood’s arsenal is almost fully developed, and if he continues to command and throw strikes like he did in Double-A, it should yield success with his stuff playing up in short bursts out of the ‘pen. —Jason Cole

Fantasy Impact: The latest 2012 draftee to make the major leagues, Wood is being fast-tracked out of necessity for the Braves, who, as Jason mentioned earlier, have seen their two best relief arms behind Craig Kimbrel (Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty) succumb to Tommy John surgery. Despite great success thus far in Double-A, the usefulness of the Braves' lefty in fantasy leagues for 2013 is pretty limited. The rotation is full and getting fuller with Brandon Beachy due back within a matter of weeks, and there's no way (barring injury) that Wood will collect saves while in the bullpen. The question of whether to add Alex Wood to your fantasy team is going to be very league-dependent, but here are the types of leagues where you should consider speculatively adding him, if you have room:

  1. Dynasty leagues of 16 teams or more. Even if Wood spends the entire season in the bullpen, the long-term plan is still to give him a fair shake in the starting rotation. And that could begin as soon as 2014.
  2. Dynasty/keeper formats of 14 teams or more that use holds as a category. The road for Wood to get holds in short order is not a difficult one to envision. He immediately becomes the best lefty in the Braves bullpen, moving Luis Avilan to the side (his 2.66 ERA is much less impressive when you see that it comes with a 10.6 percent strikeout rate). Pitching in a division full of left-handed hitters who can be made to look silly by left-handed pitching will only help his cause, even though having a change-up as his best secondary offering has helped him have more success against righties than lefties in his brief minor-league career.
  3. NL-only leagues. The National League has plenty of relievers, so even if Wood comes out and pitches to the best of his ability in 2013, he's just not going to be all that valuable. If your NL-only team needs an arm, he's worth $1-2 in FAAB just to see if you can catch lightning in a bottle, but his upside is pretty limited.

The best-case scenario here is that Wood becomes a slightly lesser version of what Jonny Venters was in his rookie season (think an ERA in the mid-2.00s and about a strikeout per inning), while potentially getting 20 holds. That is why his situation is worth monitoring in all leagues that count holds. And if he at least performs respectably, there's no good reason why he shouldn't stick around for the rest of the year. The Braves need him, and they know it. —Bret Sayre

Jason Cole is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

Related Content:  Jonny Venters,  Braves,  Alex Wood,  Eric O'Flaherty

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