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Swinging for the Fences: A secret weapon in the bullpen

Who is Blake Wood?

Swinging for the Fences: A secret weapon in the bullpen
Hard-throwing right-hander Blake Wood could become a key part of the Tribe bullpen in 2014. (Photo: Getty Images)
March 25, 2014
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The hardest part of spring training for any team is cutting down the roster and making the tough decisions on players who were impressive in spring training, but just failed to outperform other viable candidates for the same roster spots.

We've seen a lot of those decisions come down the pike for the Indians with outfielder Jeff Francoeur and veteran starter Aaron Harang released, Trevor Bauer and C.C. Lee optioned to AAA andBryan LaHairDavid Cooper and Luke Carlin re-assigned to minor league camp.

We've alse seen key additions to the roster with super-sub utility player Elliot Johnson added to the bench and Nyjer Morganmaking the roster in the wake of news that starting center fielderMichael Bourn would start the year on the DL.

The bullpen has been one of the more interesting topics of discussion this spring with several viable candidates coming into camp for only a few openings. With Lee optioned and Vinnie Pestano given a spot in the bullpen, that leaves Blake WoodScott Atchison and possibly one of Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin to compete for one or two spots, depending on whether Terry Francona wants to go with a seven-man or an eight-man bullpen.

All the candidates offer unique qualities as pitchers, but Blake Wood possesses a kind of talent that could lengthen the bullpen even more.

Blake Daniel Wood was born August 8th, 1985 in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from Gwinnett High School in 2003 and went on to attend Georgia Tech University. In 2006, he helped lead the Yellow Jackets to the College World Series. The Royals selected him in the third round of the draft that year.

Wood had an up-and-down minor league career in the Royals system as he originally was drafted as a starter. After inconsistent results during his first four prefessional seasons, he was converted to pitch exclusively as a reliever in 2010. After going 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA for AAA Omaha in 12 games, Wood recieved his first call-up to the major league level. Between 2010 and 2011, Wood made 106 appearances out of the bullpen going 6-6 with a 4.30 ERA. 

In 2012, Wood's season never got started as he only made a handful of appearances in spring training before elbow irritation sidelined him to start the regular season. On May 25th, the right-hander underwent Tommy Johnsurgery and was shut down for the rest of the season.

Following the 2012 season, Wood was placed on waivers by the Royals and was claimed by Cleveland in November. the right-hander spent the majority of the 2013 season in the minors rehabbing from his surgery. In 29 minor league appearances with the Tribe, Wood went 2-0 with a 2.39 ERA. He struck out 32 batters in just 26.1 innings, but his command hadn't yet returned as he had also issued 18 free passes in that time. Those command issues followed him to the big leagues as he walked three batters in only two innings of work for the Tribe late last season.

During spring training this year, Wood started out having similar control issues allowing a run and walking two batters in his first two Cactus League appearances of 2014. After that, though, he settled down and has dominated since then striking out at least one batter in his next eight outings, a streak which just came to an end on Monday against the Reds.

When I went down to Arizona a couple weeks ago, I'll admit that I didn't really have high expectations for Wood. I, like many others, was under the impression that C.C. Lee would be a shoe-in for the bullpen over Wood or any of the other relievers in camp. While Lee didn't pitch badly this spring, he was out-pitched by Wood as well as veteran non-roster invite Scott Atchison and former setup man Vinnie Pestano.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well Wood pitched during the time I was down there. He made two appearances and struck out three of the seven batters he faced. With his command back, his combination of a fastball that can touch triple-digits as well as a slider and changeup could prove to be a deadly weapon out of bullpen.

Looking at his career big league numbers, according to Fangraphs, Wood could have the serious makings of a lights-out strikeout pitcher that could potentially figure his way into the back of the bullpen depending on how John AxfordCody Allen and Bryan Shaw pitch this season.

His fastball has been known to sit at 95.4 mph over his career, although since coming back from surgery, his average velocity has been clocked at 97.2 mph. When he has both his velocity and command working, Wood can get easy outs with just his fastball since even though the contact percentage on his fastball is over 86%, his line-drive rate is only 18.6% and his ground-ball rate is 51.6%.

His slider is the component that could take him to the next level as a reliever, though, since it is the pitch that has and will most likely continue to account for a great deal of the strikeouts for Wood during his career. The right-hander can throw his slide piece outside the strike zone and get batters to swing at it over 38% of the time. Plus, he can get a swinging strike on it at an impressive 19.7% rate (league average is only 8.5%).

He can also throw a sinker and changeup, but those are less-used weapons in his arsenal. His changeup, though, has registered at 14.5% as far as his swinging-strike rate. It could be used sparingly as a compliment to his slider if and when he has his back against the wall during an inning.

Terry Francona said last week that he would like to have as many relievers as possible that are capable of shuffling in and out of the back of the bullpen roles. No doubt he is taking extra precautionary measures after Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez proved to be ineffective last year in the roles that they dominated in the year before.

With injuries to Michael Bourn and Jason Giambi and the possibility of Danny Salazar staying in Goodyear a week longer to get fully stretched out before the season, there is more than a pretty good chance that Tito chooses to go with an eight-man bullpen to start the year. There have already been rumblings out of Indians camp that veteran right-hander Scott Atchison will make the team and travel with them to Oakland to start the year.

What does that mean for Blake Wood? Well, if they start with an eight-man bullpen, he can pretty much put a claim on that final spot unless one of Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin is slotted in there while the other pitches as the fifth starter.

Regardless of what happens, though, whether Wood makes the bullpen or has to make a trip down to Columbus, if he is healthy and in control, the Indians may very well have someone special on their hands in the bullpen whose impact shouldn't take long to be felt.

Quick Thoughts

Bruce Rondon to have Tommy John surgery... I'm starting to wonder if MLB will decide to take action on this recent increase of reconstructive surgery patients. The question is what kind of action will they take? Would we see even stricter pitch counts and innings limits? Or would they take a more old-school approach and loosen the guidelines already in place? This debate has gone on for years and this current rash of injuries this offseason may only fan the flames.

The Tigers have been one of several teams hit hard by injuries this spring with Jose Iglesias and Andy Dirks set to miss a good portion (if not all) of the regular season. Now they have been informed that young, hard-throwing right-hander Bruce Rondon will be out for all of 2014 as he he is set to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Rondon was a candidate to set up new closer Joe Nathan, but now Detroit's bullpen may be a problem once again for the the defending AL Central champs. While they now have a proven closer in Nathan as well as having addedJoba Chamberlain and Ian Kroll, they also lost Joaquin Benoit, who stepped up when they needed a closer andDrew Smyly, who is still with the team, but will pitch out of the rotation.

The Tigers have managed to overcome their weaknesses in the bullpen up to this point, but with less depth in the rotation and the lineup, who knows if that trend can continue.

Profar, Soto out 10-12 weeks, Yu Darvish scratched for opening day start... Ron Washington has a tough task ahead of him, much like Joe Girardi did with the Yankees a year ago.

Despite key moves this offseason to make the Rangers a better team in a much more competitive division, injuries have begun to take their toll withDerek Holland out until midseason with a knee injury and now projected starting second baseman Jurickson Profar and backup catcher Geovany Soto are expected to be out for up to three months with injury. Of course with Ian Kinsler no longer in the fold, this poses a pretty big problem for Texas.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, Yu Darvish has been officially scratched from the opening day start. The good news is the A's and Mariners are also dealing with injury issues, but it also may open the door for the Angels if they're able to get out to a quick start. 

In that division, you can't afford to fall behind early.

Red Sox sign David Ortiz to 1-year extension with vesting option for 2016... I just wanted to bring this up and say I like the way the Red Sox are going about retaining Ortiz. They aren't giving in to the market demands as far as handing out a long-term extension, a la the Angels with Albert Pujols. Even though it wouldn't necessarily be out of their price range, kudos to Ben Cherington and the rest of the organization on choosing the conservative approach with negotations.

Rather than signing a long-term extension with a veteran player who may currently still be productive, but whose talents could start to decline at any time. I think they would be better off signing these 1-2 year extensions every couple years rather than signing, say, a five-plus year deal and regretting it down the road.

I also give props to Ortiz for choosing to stay in the city that he loves and that clearly loves him back. Whether or not he was seriously persuing a long-term deal, it's nice to see loyalty prevail.

In Conclusion...

When the news first broke about the Tribe and Masterson ending extension talks, I was as disappointed as anyone. After all, this is one of the cornerstones of the Tribe's current core of players that has been there when it first came together and has watched it build itself from the ground up.

The argument of whether or not he is an ace by league standards has been a topic of debate since he was first inserted into the role, but as far as him being the leader of this staff, there is no argument. I've said on many occasions on social media and on the air that watching Masterson really evolve into a leader and mentor for the younger starters on this staff was one of many amazing developments from last season. Whether someone had a good or a bad day on the mound, Masterson would almost always be the first guy they'd talk to.

Then we get to the financial side of things, which is where I have some second thoughts and hesitations. This " hometown discount" that went viral throughout the local media and fanbase was a nice offer, but not as big a deal as many made it out to be since the concession only really came in the length of the contract. $17.5 million per year is a lot to give a pitcher who has not yet had back-to-back years of success.

I believe in the value of leadership in the clubhouse probably more than a lot of people, but realistically, at that price, you can't ignore his shortcomings as a pitcher. I think they should've gotten the deal done, but I'm not going to relentlessly chastise them for not getting it done.

The problem with passing on an extension is you're putting a lot of faith in the options you have. I'm not too worried about not having an ace after this season since I firmly believe in the future of Danny Salazar, but the rest of the rotation could take a hit. I'm pretty confident in Corey Kluber, but after that, it's a lot of question marks. Will Zach McAllister find consistency for a full season? And the even bigger questions, can Carlos Carrasco and/or Trevor Bauer develop into effective starters?

The Indians do have Cody Anderson and, to a lesser extent, T.J. House as starting pitching depth that could have a more immediate big league impact, but after that, it's a pretty sizeable drop-off in talent until the A-Ball levels.

It's a big gamble, but is it worth taking? I'm not so sure and I think extension negotiations will be re-opened either sometime during the season or during the offseason. I don't think he's gone next offseason as simple as that because of his history with Terry Francona. But will a deal get done? That's another story.

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

Willie
March 26, 2014 - 7:12 PM EDT
Jake,

I would have liked to seen 2010 - 11 seasons broken down as opposed to lumped together (106 ip and 4.30 era is underwhelming). I believe 2011 Wood proved he could pitch on the big league level.

Overall, I agree, with the K ability and improved control Wood could make some serious noise.
Hermie13
March 26, 2014 - 1:47 PM EDT
@James

Good point on Masterson...though I'm not sold yet that he's as irreplaceable as some think. Obviously neither pitched the innings Masterson has, or has the long-term success Masterson has had...but both Kluber and Salazar put up better numbers than Masterson last year.

Kluber had a better FIP, xFIP, BB-rate, K/BB ratio..
Salazar had a better ERA, FIP, xFIP, K-rate, BB-rate, K/BB ratio...

Again, sample sizes were small (especially with Salazar) but while Masterson has been the team Ace/leader...come November 2014, I would not be surprised if the "team Ace" title is a distant memory with Masterson. Still would make one hell of a good #3 guy and would not be opposed to signing him even if Salazar and Kluber pass him by.

I definitely think Cabrera is easier to replace than Masterson (don't get me wrong)...we could probably get by with Aviles and Johnson right now and still be ok, then of course Lindor coming up. Need Masterson for 2014 if you want to win....but beyond? May not "need" him as much as we think...
James
March 26, 2014 - 9:44 AM EDT
I think the most important factor for the Indians to consider with a Masterson extension is who is going to replace him. When we consider retaining Asdrubal, it's easy to see him walk because of the numerous options we have to step in, most importantly Francisco Lindor. The same does not exist for Masterson, thus the marginal 'win gain' to having Masterson over his replacement is quite high. In the end he's worth more to the Tribe than he is to anyone else
Hermie13
March 26, 2014 - 9:12 AM EDT
Torn on the Ortiz extension. Part of me likes it as it's a good reward for a guy that's been a huge part of that organization. Was worth more than what they gave him in 2013. However, another part of me thinks they would have been better off just waiting til after the season, seeing how he played then offering a QO if applicable. QO is said to be worth $15M next year (so less than they just guaranteed him). I can't imagine anyone would give up a draft pick to sign a DH-only who will be 39 in 2015. Red Sox IMO overpaid here....though $1M is hardly enough to get upset over.

Definitely agree the Sox were smart to not extend a multi-year (guaranteed) offer.
Rich
March 26, 2014 - 9:04 AM EDT
Carrasco's problem has been mental toughness as he tends to give up big innings, or get frustrated and throw at hitters.

I watched him pitch against the Reds on MLB Monday and he did a nice job of limiting the damage. He breezed through the lineup to start the game, but the second time through the Reds' studs got to him as he gave up three straight hits to Votto, Bruce, and Ludwick. But he didn't panic; he stayed the course and got out of the inning nicely.

Same thing happened the next time through as Votto and Bruce got hits again, but Carlos worked out of it. In the end he gave up 3 runs in just under 6 innings. There's no shame in giving up hits to Votto and Bruce.

I know it's only one game but he apparently flamed out the previous game and got pummeled. Francona criticized him openly after that game. Nice to see him come back and maintain his composure and prevent any big innings against the Reds. I think he's earned the first shot at that #4 spot in the rotation. He's out of options - time to fish or cut bait.
Jim
March 25, 2014 - 10:33 PM EDT
Actually, Antonetti said in an interview...maybe yesterday, or the day before, that Tomlin wouldn't be on a limit this year, so take that for what it's worth. Not sure how accurate that's going to be, but I'm sure his skill set fits more innings earlier.

But we'll see.
Jake D.
March 25, 2014 - 10:15 PM EDT
I should also mention that Tomlin will be on an innings limit this season, something I think a lot of people forget. Giving Carrasco the job now would help the Indians better manage Tomlin's workload this season either in the bullpen or in Columbus so that he's available for as much of the season as possible.
Jake D.
March 25, 2014 - 9:26 PM EDT
Thanks, Jwahoo

Here's what the Carrasco vs. Tomlin debate basically boils down to: With Tomlin you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The only problem is his ceiling isn't much higher than a 4th or 5th starter because he relies too much on throwing pitches within the strike zone to be successful. His increased strikeout rate this spring has been an interesting development, but we'll see if it's sustainable.

With Carrasco, he has the potential and the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but, obviously, you rarely know when you're going to get that aggressive, dominant starter or the guy with a short fuse who over-thinks everything he does on the mound that, unfortunately, we've come to know all too well.

There's a definite give-and-take there and I guess it comes down to whether you want to go with more stability or more potential.
Jwahoo
March 25, 2014 - 8:41 PM EDT
I always like your stuff.


I think Josh Tomlin might be one of those guys everyone always ignores but puts up solid season after solid season at the back of the rotation.

With the market for starting pitchers being the way it is. Dolan is an idiot for not taking advantage of keeping Masterson. This is coming from what they call a "Dolan apologist" on the forums.

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