As soon as the Royals announced their pick I started looking for game footage of RHP Stephen Woods pitching. My MiLB TV login refused to work so I had to call MiLB and get things fixed. Anyway, after a short delay, I was able to start watching some video on Woods.
The only game film from the last two years on Woods is the June 13 start at Bradenton. Woods works as a starter but pitches exclusively out of the stretch. He works on the first base side of the rubber allowing himself more room to pitch inside which he likes to do.
Woods fastball was working consistently from 93 to 95 in this game. He throws both a 4-seam fastball and a cutter. The cutter touched 95 more than once and has some glove side run away from the RHHs. It looks like Woods tries to throw the cutter only to the left side of the plate, but it does miss arm side at times.
Woods uses the other fastball to go to the right side of the plate. Again, it worked up to 95 in this game. Woods seems to favor busting players in and in the top of the zone with his 4-seam. At times, it almost looks like he is working a 2-seam as well with a fastball that seems to sink and move in to RHHs. This pitch was down in the zone mostly in this game and worked up to 94. It makes me think Woods is using a cutter, 4-seam to maximize spin, and a 2-seam to get more movement. This is a great mix.
Woods threw a change up that had sharp arm side movement as well as some sink. The pitch seemed to jump away from LHHs hitters and the first time I saw it I said, “Wow.” Woods did not throw the change up a lot but Salvador Perez likes using a change up so I would expect him to have Woods throw it more than he was in Tampa’s system. The change up worked 85 to 87.
Woods also throws a curve that is a true swing and miss pitch. When he stays on top of it and spins it hard, it has a lot of movement from the belt down to the toes. The movement is not 12-6 but more 11-5 from the catcher’s view. The pitch is sharp and resulted in several “Sword!” calls. I only saw Woods hang this pitch one time and it got hammered for a single on the ground through the left side. The rest of the time, the pitch worked down in the zone well. I did see him bury the curve in to LHHs a few times resulting in swings and misses.
The other pitch Woods throws is a slider. I was not as impressed with this pitch and it’s easily the one he has to work on the most. The slider was around 87 to 88 and had more sideways glove side movement than drop. Woods struggled to stay on top of the pitch and didn’t get the movement or location he wanted the first several times he threw it. That being said, he did execute it perfectly with two strikes against a RHH who had no chance and swung and missed.
Woods uses his movement to move hitters eyes while expanding the strike zone. If he gets ahead to a RHH with his 4-seam, he’ll use his cutter away the next pitch to make the hitter reach. Then he can either go back in with the fastball, away with the slider, or down with the curve. If Woods gets ahead of a LHH with his cutter in, he’ll follow it up with the change up running away, fastball away with arm side run, or a curve down and in trying to get a weak swing. That’s not what he did every time, but my point is that he uses his movement to produce outs and has multiple options.
I didn’t see a lot of control issues with Woods although I know they have been there in the past. There were a few times the ball stayed up and Woods pulled off the fastball. But it wasn’t a consistent red flag that a lot of Rule 5 guys exhibit. Woods is fairly polished. He was also composed in this start. He didn’t get in trouble until the fifth inning in this game but regathered himself and started making pitches again.
Woods seems like he could stick as a starter. I’m not sure what the Royals will try to do with him in camp but I imagine he’ll start spring training games and transition to the bullpen as camp gets more in swing. Honestly, he may the guy the Royals are looking at to be the fifth starter. I imagine they hope Woods will be a long relief guy that makes spot starts. I don’t see him replacing Keller, Duffy, Junis, or Montgomery. Now, looking at Sparkman, Barlow, Skoglund, Lopez, and others, he might replace one of those guys. (By the way, the MiLB rep on the phone asked me about Jorge Lopez and if he could be a starter to which I said I hope he gets consistent enough that that happens.)
I like what I see in this selection. Even though he has not pitched above the Florida State League, there is a lot of potential. I have no doubt the Royals will be able to hide him when needed as the 26th player on their roster if they want.
Photo taken from MiLB website. No photo credit was given.