A Starter's Journey

Posted: 7/28/2017

20170714_Sioux_Falls_at_WIC-0044.jpgPhoto Credits: Ed Bailey (1,2), The Northern Battery (3)

By: Ari Ross

Heading into the 2012 MLB Draft, almost every team told Grady Wood they envisioned him as a starter. The one team that didn’t? The Seattle Mariners.

But of course, it was the Mariners who took Wood in the tenth round of the 2012 MLB Draft.

Wood had posted a perfect 12-0 record and a 1.69 ERA his senior season at Western Oregon. He was a consensus All-American, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Male Athlete of the Year and was named the National Pitcher of the Year by D2baseball.com. 

But with 110-plus innings on his arm, and the road to the majors much easier as a reliever, the Mariners stuck Wood in the bullpen.

Wood though, had never pitched out of the bullpen before, and it was a bit of an adjustment. “I wasn't very good at it, at least I don't think I was very good at it,” Wood said, “It was hard to get warm, I didn't know what I was doing. It took me two years before I even figured out how to get hot out of the bullpen.”

In four seasons in the Mariners farm system, Wood compiled an 18-12 record and a 3.62 ERA with 237 strikeouts. But after finishing the 2015 season with the Mariners High-A affiliate, the Bakersfield Blaze, Seattle released the right-handed pitcher.

Wood played the 2016 season for the New Britain Bees in the Atlantic League, once again out of the bullpen, but still, he wanted to start. “I wanted to come into the [2017] season a starter, and if I couldn't make it then I couldn't make it,” Wood said, “I was telling every team that."

And when the Sioux Falls Canaries came calling, the fit seemed to make a lot of sense. Both Mike Meyer and Ben Moore were former starting pitchers who had made the transition from the bullpen, and both were also sidearm guys like Wood.

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“I watched countless hours, video of him online, pitching in major league spring training games that sort of thing,” Meyer said, “And I just really liked what I saw with his movement and his breaking ball and I thought he could be devastating in our league.”

And that was quickly apparent too. In an exhibition game against the Gary SouthShore RailCats, Wood was devastating, pitching a no-hitter through five innings.

“He had really good command of his sinker, he was throwing his breaking ball for strikes when he wanted to, throwing it out of the zone when he wanted to,” Meyer said,” “It was everything that we had hoped that he'd be, and we were really excited with what we saw moving into the season."

And while Wood struggled over his first two starts as he made the transition from the bullpen to the Birds’ starting rotation, he’s quickly become one of the Canaries best starters.

"We thought we had something special in Grady,” Meyer said, “And he's been our best starting pitcher this year. We feel like our rotation's pretty solid, but he's been the best of the group."

“Mike and Ben are probably my favorite coaches I've ever played for,” Wood said, “They're just fun, they're relaxed. I don't have a lot of expectations, I just want to win, every time I go out there."

And Wood’s certainly won a lot. Heading into the All-Star Break, Wood is 5-2 with a 2.79 ERA, 75 strikeouts and just 14 walks. He’s thrown 8.0-plus innings in five of his 12 starts and allowed three or fewer earned runs in all but two. 

Wood’s 75 strikeouts lead the Canaries and are tied for fourth in the American Association, while his 2.79 ERA is tied for fourth in the Association.

“I just want to win. I haven't been on a winning team for a few years, and I hate it. I just want to win,” Wood said, “This team is fun, we're the closest group I've ever had in any affiliate ball I've ever had.”

“It’s been fun,” Wood continued, “I'm not used to having fun. It's usually a job; this is fun."

But baseball is a job, and it’s a job that may earn Wood a promotion back to affiliated ball one day soon, something Meyer certainly believes is a possibility.

“I really feel like, with the stuff he has, he can pitch in the big leagues,” Meyer said.

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“With his arm angle, with his breaking ball, with his changeup, with his fastball command, he can get anybody out, he can get hitters out at the highest level and he's proved that in major league spring training games,” Meyer said. “And I just really hope that he gets another opportunity cause I think he's one of those guys that can pitch in the big leagues for a long time." 

But a big-league promotion isn’t on Wood’s mind right now. He just wants to win, and have fun doing it.

“I'm just having fun…[I] love my team, honestly.” Wood said, “I want this team to make the playoffs, and I want to win a ring, that'd be pretty fun."