With the Cincinnati Reds spring training now in full operation, one of the team's most crowded battles appears to be for its fifth starter role. While Aaron Harang, Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey seem to be firmly entrenched in the rotation, there are several players who are getting a crack at the final starting slot. One of the youngest candidates is 23-year-old southpaw hurler Travis Wood, who made his triple-A debut with Louisville in late July last season.
Before being promoted to the Bats last year, Wood was so dominant at the double-A level that he earned the Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher award for 2009. Accolades weren't just limited to the Southern League, either, as MLB.com named Wood the Double-A Starting Pitcher of the Year for the entire minor leagues. In 19 starts with the Reds' double-A affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats, Wood was lights out, putting up a miniscule 1.21 ERA to go with nine wins. Wood's ERA, strikeouts, and wins totals were all leading the league at the time of his promotion, and the 1.21 ERA is actually a Southern League record.
Wood's stellar season continued once he strapped on a Bats' uniform, as he posted a 4-2 record with a 3.14 ERA in eight starts during Louisville's run to their second straight division crown. Five of Wood's eight starts with the Bats made the cut as quality starts, including a seven-inning, one-hit performance on August 22nd against Indianapolis. Although Wood has been in the Reds system the past four years, his 2009 season may have been his best, as his 13 wins, 167.2 innings, and 135 strikeouts were all career highs.
Wood was a second round pick by Cincinnati in 2005, arriving straight out of high school from Bryant, Arkansas, which is located just southwest of Little Rock. In his first season as a professional, Wood immediately provided a return on investment for the Reds, not allowing a run over the first 17 innings of his career. After the initial success, Wood slowly moved up the minor league ladder, playing at Dayton in 2006, followed by high-A ball in Sarasota during the 2007 campaign. 2008 was split between Sarasota and Chattanooga, which was then the team's double-A affiliate.
Even if Wood doesn't crack the big leagues to start 2010, his future appears to be bright. This past season, Baseball America gave Wood the nod for having the Southern League's Best Changeup and Best Control. It would not be a surprise to see him anchoring the front end of the Bats' starting rotation throughout this season as he continues to hone his skills.
Jason Stella is a reporter for BatsBaseball.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball or its clubs.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.