Updated: Feb 28, 2018
In conjunction with my friend Colin Garner over at The Redbird Daily, we present to you our combined list of the Top 30 Prospects in the Cardinals organization! Every other day for the next two months, From January 28th until March 29th, we will be presenting you with an exhaustive evaluation on each of the top 30 prospects in the organization starting with prospect #30 and counting down to prospect #1. This is our combined list, not our own individual lists. For additional information on how we came these rankings, CLICK HERE. Without further delay, we present...
Prospect #15, RHP Jake Woodford
Age At The Start Of The 2018 Season: 21
Drafted In The 1st Round Of The 2015 Draft
2017 FIP: 4.08
Kyle Reis (Prospect #16 On Personal List, Prior To Combining Lists With Colin Garner)
What I like most about Woodford is that he really came into his own over the last 5 starts of the 2017 season. As a matter of fact, that seems to be a trend for the Palm Beach pitchers in 2017, as Woodford, Conner Jones, and Mike O'Reilly all seemed to pitch well down the stretch.
Over his last 5 starts of the season Woodford pitched 29.2 innings while striking out 16 and walking 10. He did this while posting an ERA of 1.82, a batting average against of .229, and an OPS against of .585.
During this time period he also posted the second best start of his career. On August 18th, his third to last start of the season, he pitched an 8 inning gem in which he struck out 5, walked 2, allowed 1 ER, and threw 68 of 95 pitches for strikes. That's a very strong finish to the season for a 20 year old pitching in a league that was three years older than him, on average.
He doesn't throw the ball with a ton of velocity, but his motion looks strong and powerful. He's big and bulky (although he's gotten into tremendous shape this offseason) and his motion-mechanics remind me of a right handed John Rocker. He finishes that motion in perfect fielding position, just like every little league coach on Earth teaches.
Woodford is also a quick worker with a really great rhythm. I like that a lot.
I love that Woodford had so much success at the A+ level at such a young age. Yes, The Florida State League is a total pitchers league, but the 3.10 ERA is really really good and the 7 HR allowed in 119 IP is also good. He certainly has a lot of growing and refining to do, but he's a big and smart kid with the makeup both physically and mentally to adjust accordingly.
I do really like Woodford's change up. I think it has the potential to be a plus pitch for him and I'd call it above average right now. Woodford's fastball is the low 90's variety that has touched the low/mid 90's. He mixes in a sinker and slider, as well. Both of those pitches can be average offerings. Both of those pitches showed that they're capable of being average to above average down the stretch, which is great. All of his pitches still need to gain consistency.
As you'll find out in the next paragraph, I have plenty of concerns about Woodford. However, Woodford has the most important advantage in his back pocket when it comes to progression: youth. He'll enter the 2018 as a 21 year old. He's on the fast track and has had success. Luckily, there are enough pitchers ahead of him that the Cardinals will be able to slow down his ascent. The tools are all there, but there's a lot of work for him to do.
What I don't like about Jake Woodford is that I believe that his stats have been deceiving. It's not that I don't like him or that I don't think he's a good prospect, it's just that he doesn't really do a lot. He does throw strikes - a really good 65% strikes in 2017 - but all of his other rates are concerning. He only struck out hitters 14% of the time in 2017 and that translates to a 5.45 K per 9. That wouldn't be so alarming if he wasn't allowing so many fly balls, but the 54% fly ball rate in 2017 screams of concern. It also tells me that the Florida State league saved his ERA and HR allowed.
Woodford also allows too many base runners. His hits per 9 of 9.7 is a serious concern. The 2.95 walks per 9 would be just fine if he was striking more hitters out or allowing more ground balls. Unfortunately, he isn't doing either of those things well enough to be allowing the 12.6 base runners per 9 that he allowed in 2017. He doesn't strike people out. He allows too many base runners. He doesn't throw with a ton of velocity. All of this means that he doesn't have much of a fall back as bullpen option moving forward. So, right now he is a one trick pony that benefited greatly from the league he was in. I'm a big fan of FIP as a stat, but I firmly believe that the 4.08 FIP attached to Woodford for the 2017 season isn't accurate and is generous.
Aside from all of those concerns, I'm also worried about the batting average against of .280 and the OPS against of .737 on the season. Above, I mentioned that he ended the season strong over his last 5 starts, but it's also worth mentioning that he still didn't flash any signs of dominance . He was throwing more strikes, but he was allowing more fly balls, striking out less, and walking more. That indicates to me the swirling winds in the FSL saved Woodford from some punishment. I'd be less concerned if he was the only pitcher that was rewarded for it, but this is a trend that all of the pitchers at Palm Beach showed and that tells me that his success was aided. That tells me that some of that success is a lie.
If I'm comparing Woodford to a major league pitcher I think it'll be something similar to current A's utility pitcher Yusmeiro Petit. Honestly, the first name that comes to my mind is former Cardinals prospect Jess Todd. Todd excelled in the minors, but when you dug a little deeper you saw a kid that put too many people on and didn't throw hard enough or strike out enough to counteract all of the people that he put on base. Of course, Woodford still has enough development time to increase his strikeout numbers, gain a little velo, refine his secondary offerings (the slider in particular), reduce the contact allowed, and become a #5 starter with #4 starter upside. That's his ceiling and it'll look something similar to Erasmo Ramirez.
As always, these articles can't be done without Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. They are equally as reliant on the skills of Cardinalsgif's and NChill17. It's a pleasure to do this list with my friend Colin Garner at The Redbird Daily.
Thanks For Reading!