Wood excelled in second Double-A stint
Reds prospect earns MiLBY for record-setting season
For Travis Wood, the 2009 season turned out to be subtraction by addition.
The Cincinnati Reds' top left-handed pitching prospect added a cutter to his repertoire, and in doing so subtracted nearly six runs -- yes, six runs -- from his Double-A ERA a year earlier.
Wood shattered the Southern League record by posting a 1.21 ERA for the Carolina Mudcats, going 9-3 while striking out 103 batters and walking 37 over 119 innings. He limited opponents to a .189 average and was named the league's Most Outstanding Pitcher, all of which earned him the MiLBY for Best Double-A Starting Pitcher.
The old league mark, set in 1976 by Montgomery's Dave Rozema, was 1.57. Wood, who was leading the Minors in ERA when he was promoted to Triple-A Louisville in late July, became only the ninth Southern Leaguer since 1964 to post an ERA below 2.00 while pitching at least 109 innings.
A 2005 second-round pick out of high school in Arkansas, Wood had risen steadily up the Reds' ladder, dating back to his professional debut when he posted an 0.75 ERA over eight games in the Gulf Coast League and a 1.82 ERA in six more appearances at short-season Billings. Over 48 2/3 combined innings, he struck out 67.
In his full-season debut at Dayton in 2006, he was 10-5 with a 3.66 ERA in 27 starts. His '07 campaign at Class A Advanced Sarasota was cut short by injury as he posted a 4.86 ERA in 12 starts. When he returned to the same level to open 2008, Wood went 3-4 with a 2.70 ERA in nine starts to earn a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga, then the Reds' Southern League affiliate.
There, he faced mound adversity for the first time. With control problems and a repertoire that consisted of only a fastball and changeup, Wood saw his ERA soar to 7.09 in 17 starts, one of the worst marks in the league.
In 2009, Wood returned to the Southern League, this time to the Reds' new affiliate at Carolina, where he flat-out dominated the competition. He allowed more than two earned runs in a start just once (he gave up three on June 18) and held opponents without an earned run in nine of 19 starts, including the last two prior to his promotion.
Wood's best outing came June 7 in his lone complete game against eventual league champion Jacksonville as he struck out a season-high 11 batters over nine shutout innings of three-hit ball.
The keys to that success? Physical and mental maturation, better insight into his abilities and the addition of three more pitches to his arsenal, notably a cut fastball.
"His two best pitches in the past were his fastball and changeup, but that being said, he now has a number of other pitches to go with those. And the one that's helped as much as any has been his cutter," said Terry Reynolds, the Reds' director of player development. "So it's not any one thing but a combination of all of those."
Wood acknowledged how much his new cutter aided his improvement.
"That's helped a lot," he said. "But mainly it's just going out and believing in your stuff and just having fastball command."
Reynolds noted that Wood, still just 22, is a young player, and young players often hit walls that require a second year at the same level.
"He's just maturing and starting to figure things out, to figure out how to pitch," Reynolds said. "A lot of times it takes a year or two at each level to figure things out."
Maybe it was maturity level, maybe it was the adrenaline from having so much success, maybe it was the brand-new package of five pitches he brought with him, but Wood had no repeat of his 2008 struggles upon his promotion to Triple-A Louisville. There, he helped the Bats rack up the best overall record in the 14-team International League, going 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA in eight starts down the stretch.
"At each level, the game itself gets harder, gets faster. And everybody's top shelf [at Triple-A]," said Wood. "So as a pitcher who just came up, you're a little cautious about your stuff. But it's just another game."
That whole package could project Wood in the Reds' rotation plans in the not-too-distant future. The club took the first step in that direction by adding him to the 40-man roster in the offseason. And Reynolds projects him as a starter, thanks not only to the five-pitch arsenal but to the fact that he has command of all five offerings.
"I'm not saying he'd never be in the bullpen," said Reynolds, "but the way he's put together and with his repertoire, I think he's better suited to starting."
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.