Kerry Wood: A BA History

Delving deep on the retiring Cubs righthander

The news that Cubs righthander Kerry Wood is retiring hit home with some of us veterans at Baseball America. We remember being in the office when Wood struck out 20 Astros in probably the greatest game ever pitched, a complete-game, one-hit shutout. The printout of that box score—taken off the newfangled "Internet"—hung in the hallway at our old 600 South Duke office until we moved out more than three years later.

Wood's retirement and some intern manpower prompted us to revisit what we wrote about Wood, starting with when he was a high school senior in 1995 and again with his first No. 1 prospect writeup in the 1997 Cubs Top 10, after the 1996 season.

May 1-14, 1995: Wood Continues Texas Arm Legacy
By David McNabb, Dallas Morning News

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas — Mike McGilvray has evaluating the status of professional prospects down to a subtle science. And by McGilvray's barometer, Grand Prairie High righthander Kerry Wood will be picked in the first round of this June's draft.

"We're getting a lot of rental cars in our parking lot," said McGilvray, Wood's coach. "That means they're flying in to watch him. It's not just the local scouts. I start getting calls Sunday nights to find out when he's going to pitch."

Wood is the latest Dallas-Fort Worth high school prospect to prompt scouts to return to the area, like the swallows return each year to Capistrano. Last season, the flocks were drawn to Arlington Martin High to see outfielder Ben Grieve, who ultimately went No. 2 overall to the Oakland Athletics. In 1990, Martin's Todd Van Poppel drew the crowds and also was selected in the first round.

Living 20 minutes to the east of Arlington, the lanky Wood has drawn comparisons to Van Poppel, who during his senior season was described as one of the best pitching prospects of the draft era.

Wood's stock has steadily risen, as has the speed of his fastball since last year. He transferred from nearby MacArthur High in Irving for his senior year, and has jumped from a good pitcher to a dominating one. At 6-foot-4, he weighs 180 pounds and is projected to throw harder as he fills out.

"What really amazes people is that he's only 17 years old," McGilvray said. "He won't be 18 until June 17, after the draft."

Grand Prairie, ranked No. 7 in the Baseball America/National High School Baseball Coaches Association poll, doesn't have to overuse Wood because the rest of its staff is more than solid. But he is the unquestioned ace of the 18-1 team.

Wood was 6-0, 0.70 and in his 30 innings, he had 59 strikeouts, 11 walks and had given up just seven hits. His top performance came in early April with a no-hit, 15-strikeout showing in a seven-inning victory over MacArthur.

The pressure has been on Wood since scouts showed up at Grand Prairie's scrimmages in February.

"You just have to block all that out," Wood said. "You can't throw for them. I try to do my job on the mound for the team."

Wood has signed with McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, but probably will sign a professional contract. He's expected to receive an offer that could approach or top $1 million. That was the market for players chosen in the top 10 picks last year. Scouts give Wood a good chance of going that high.

"He has three above-average pitches, with his fastball, breaking ball and change," one scouting director said. "And he's got a great frame so he'll only get stronger."

Wood's pitching career began as a 5-foot-9 freshman. He had played primarily shortstop until the junior varsity coach asked for pitchers.

"I raised my hand," Wood said. "I can't tell you why."

Wood grew six inches before his sophomore season. In this past year, he has picked up 3-4 mph on his fastball and is clocked consistently in the low 90s.

"He throws effortlessly," McGilvray said. "He's got the same fluid motion that Van Poppel has. He hides the ball well and it's on the hitters very fast."

Wood said he has dramatically improved his control, and McGilvray's conditioning program- which includes work in the swimming pool- has helped him make the jump from a good prospect to a great one.

"I think about the draft at least a little bit every day," Wood said. "But the big thing right now is winning the state championship."

June 12-25, 1995; Draft '95: Region-by-Region — Midwest; Texas
Compiled by Allan Simpson

"Texas has a rich tradition of producing high school pitchers, but it might never have been this good. Scouts have beaten a path this spring to see four righthanders: Kerry Wood, teammates Andy Yount and Jeff Austin, and Mike Marriott. Wood and Yount both are projected in the first 10-15 picks . . . Wood has an exceptional arm. Not only is the velocity on his fastball equal to that of any pitcher in the draft, but it has heavy, late boring action. His curve also has a tight rotation, giving him two well-above-average pitches that he throws with a minimum of effort. Scouts say Wood is so advanced that he should be ready for the big leagues faster than all but one or two college pitchers."

June 26-July 9, 1995: Prep Stars Get Draft News During Playoffs
By Chris Wright

SAN FRANCISCO—The nation's elite players took a study break June 1 in what has become baseball's version of senior skip day‚Ķ

Righthander Kerry Wood (first round, Cubs) was 12-0, 0.77 after pitching Grand Prairie (Texas) past Round Rock and into the Texas semifinals. Trailing 1-0 in a best-of-3 series, Wood started both ends of a doubleheader. He opened with a two-hit, 4-1 victory and then pitched 2 1/3 innings in a 16-4 romp.

Wood, who helped himself by blasting a grand slam, threw 175 pitches that day.

February 17-March 2, 1997: Cubs Top 10 Prospects
By Tracy Ringolsby

Kerry Wood, rhp
19, R-R, 6-5, 210
HS—Grand Prairie, Texas, 1995 (1)

Background: After being limited to seven innings in his pro debut in 1995 because of a respiratory illness, Wood showed in 1996 he could be just as dominating as he was in high school. He was voted No. 1 prospect in the Florida State League despite being the youngest player in the league. He missed a month with a tender elbow but led Cubs minor leaguers in strikeouts and started both of Daytona's no-hitters.

Strengths: Wood is a potential No. 1 starter in the big leagues. He has a mid-90s fastball, and as he matures could add more velocity. His curveball can be inconsistent, but when he's in command it's a knee-buckler.

Weaknesses: You have to get picky to find a fault. Wood's changeup is a tad below average, but it can become a plus pitch. Only four of 34 runners attempting to steal against him were thrown out.

The Future: Despite his inexperience, Wood is ready for Double-A. He could be in the big leagues by season's end.