In the grand scheme of things, two games don’t mean very much. No player is as good as their best games or as bad as their worst. But in the case of a player trying to attract attention in the MLB Draft, a couple of great games can make all the difference, forcing teams to give you a look. Stephen Woods never seemed that impressive, but after he threw consecutive no-hitters for Half Hallow Hills High School in New York in April, the Rays sent a scout in to see him and liked him enough to select him in the 6th round of MLB Draft.
For most of the season, Stephen Woods did not show great stuff and seemed primed to honor his commitment to the University of Albany. His fastball topped out at just 87 MPH and that was despite the fact that he didn’t have much projection remaining at 6’2″, 195. His fastball did force him to hone his breaking pitches, but his curveball didn’t have much shape in the high-60’s and his changeup was very inconsistent. Simply put, Woods was not much of a prospect. And then everything changed. Woods put in a ton of work in the last few months to build muscle and solidify his delivery, and suddenly his fastball touched 93 MPH as he threw those two no-hitters. But it wasn’t just the fastball. Woods added a mid-80’s cutter to his repertoire with sharp late action, and high school hitters couldn’t do anything with it. Woods had trouble keeping his stuff at that level the rest of the season and suffered through bouts of wildness after showing decent command previously, maybe because he knew the eyes of scouts were upon him. But nevertheless, the Rays saw enough in Woods to tab him with their 6th round pick and they hope that they can develop him enough in pro ball to make the outstanding stuff he flashed something he can sustain.
One interesting thing to watch is that the Rays don’t believe in their young pitchers throwing cutters, most notably getting rid of Taylor Guerrieri‘s promising cutter after they drafted him. The reason for that is because the cutter believe it’s an unnecessary injury risk. But in the case of Woods, where his cutter had to be one of the major reasons they drafted him, you have to think they’ll make an exception. It’s extremely to evaluate Woods after just how variable his stuff and performance was, but if there’s any chance that Woods’ stuff could be better in short stints, the Rays would be more comfortable with his cutter in that role and he might even be able to move relatively quickly. Given that he’s coming out of high school and looked so good at times as a starter, though, you have to think they’ll give him a chance to start even with the cutter.
After those two great games but inconsistent performance otherwise, Stephen Woods is a deep sleeper as he enters the Rays organization. He flashed that second gear no one had seen before and now we have to wonder whether it was just him feeling it for a couple of starts or a real breakthrough that could translate to his professional career. You don’t find stuff like Woods showed in his no-hitters down in the 6th round of the draft. The Rays are taking the gamble that they can bring that pitcher out on a regular basis.