JUPITER, Fla.—For anyone experiencing the World Wood Bat Association (WWBA) Perfect Game World Championship for the first time, the droves of golf carts occupied by professional scouts, college coaches and major league scouting directors can be an intimidating sight.
At times, the almighty golf carts line up eight-to-10 deep surrounding any one of the 12 practice fields at the Roger Dean Complex in Jupiter, Fla. Their sole purpose is to house some of baseball's brightest and most influential evaluators as they scope out the next top-of-the-draft talent or future college standouts at one of the premier amateur baseball showcase events in the country.
On Thursday, one of these WWBA World Championship first-timers was Simeon Woods-Richardson, a righthander from Houston who started the first game of the five-day event for the Texas Scout Team Yankees. And, like most first-timers, Woods-Richardson couldn't help but marvel at the rows of golf carts that were staring him back in the face as he took the mound before his start.
"I'm not going to lie, seeing all of those golf carts and all of the scouts is way overwhelming at first. You can't help but be nervous," Woods-Richardson said. "But I feel like I thrive in this setting. I love the pressure, I love the attention and I think I feed off of it. It makes me perform even better."
Woods-Richardson proved to be telling the truth, as the class of 2018 righthander—regardless of any early nerves—turned in a quality start by striking out four batters and walking none in four strong innings of one-run ball.
Pitching from an athletic 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, Woods-Richardson utilized a simple and repeatable delivery to pound the strike zone with four different pitches. Working off both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, Woods-Richardson found the zone with 38 of his 52 pitches and never reached a two-ball count to any of the 15 hitters he faced.
Woods-Richardson's four-seam fastball sat mostly 90-92 but topped out at 93 mph on multiple occasions, helping the Texas commit to be one of only seven pitchers on Day 1 of the WWBA World Championship to reach 93 mph with his fastball, according to data provided by Trackman.
But while his four-seam fastball featured standout velocity, it was Woods-Richardson's two-seamer that befuddled hitters the most. Moving toward righthanded hitters and tailing away from lefties, Woods-Richardson's two-seam fastball ranged from 87-89 mph and led to several groundball outs.
"My two-seam fastball was definitely working, which is big for me," Woods-Richardson said. "They had a bunch of lefties, so my biggest focus was running my two-seamer on the outside part of the plate and see if I could either get them to roll over or swing-and-miss. Luckily, I was hitting my spots."
In the end, 10 of the 12 outs Woods-Richardson accumulated came via strikeout or groundouts, and more than 20 percent of his 52 pitches resulted in a swinging strike. Helping his swing-and-miss rate were a pair of impressive breaking balls, led by a mid-70s curveball with strong 11-to-5 movement and followed up with a sweeping slider with a sharp lateral break in the low-80s.
As he did with all of his pitches, Woods-Richardson found the strike zone consistently with his breaking pitches, which has been a sense of pride for him during his young career.
"I feel like I can throw both (of my breaking balls) for strikes and I command both well, so it's hard to say that one is better than the other," Woods-Richardson said. "Really, I trust all of my pitches and trust that I can get them in the strike zone, and I think you really saw that today."
The impressive pitching performance didn't surprise Texas Scout Team Yankees head coach Bobby Crook, who has been watching and coaching Woods-Richardson over the course of the last three years and has come to expect the young pitcher to be at his best when the attention shines brightest.
"The first thing with Simeon has always been that he is the ultimate competitor," Crook said. "If he has the opportunity to go out on the mound and shove on some guys, then he is going to do it.
"You can just tell he feeds off the adrenaline and he feeds off the spotlight, but I think more than that, even if there was nobody here, he would still want to take care of the guy in front of him. He did it at the Area Code Games in Long Beach, he does it for his high school and he did it again today."
Perhaps most impressive about Woods-Richardson's game is that it doesn't just stop when he steps off the pitcher's mound. Although he was hitless in his only two at-bats on Thursday with a pair of groundouts, Woods-Richardson has proven to be a more-than-capable hitter on the showcase circuit and has established himself as one of the premier two-way players in the 2018 class.
Recently ranked by Baseball America as the 39th-best high school prospect in the upcoming draft class, Woods-Richardson said he would like to continue hitting and pitching for as long as possible—whether that be at the University of Texas or in an MLB organization come this time next year.
"I love both the same, which is the problem—I can't give one up," said Woods-Richardson, who profiles as a third baseman if he continues as a position player. "I love making plays in the field and driving in runs just as much as I love striking people out. I just love everything about the game."
Regardless of where he ends up on the field and in the draft, Woods-Richardson proved Thursday that he's ready to embrace the increased attention that is sure to follow him the next nine months. In fact, he welcomes it.
"This was pretty cool," Woods-Richardson said. "I could definitely get used to something like this every time I play."