After the conclusion of yesterday’s series-clinching victory over the Cardinals, the Milwaukee Brewers named Brandon Woodruff as the scheduled starter for tonight’s opening game against the Rays in Tampa Bay. This will be Woodruff’s second attempt at making his MLB debut; he was previously called up on June 13th to make a start against St. Louis, but hurt his hamstring in warm-ups and wound up spending 6 weeks on the disabled list before getting sent back to the minors without throwing a single big league pitch.
Woodruff began his career as an 11th-round pick by the Brewers during the late Bruce Seid’s final draft as scouting director in 2014. He posted solid numbers during his first full season as a pro in 2015, but his stock soared last season as he advanced to the AA level, lead the minor leagues in strikeouts, and won Milwaukee’s organizational minor league pitcher of the year. Woodruff is ranked as the Brewers’ #4 prospect by MLB Pipeline and #2 prospect by Baseball America. So, what can we expect to see from the imposing right-hander?
Woodruff has the ideal build that one typically likes to see in a starting pitcher. He stands at 6’4” tall and is listed at a sturdy 215 lbs. Woodruff struggled with command while pitching collegiately at Mississippi State, and when he came into the organization the coaches got to work on ironing out his mechanics. He’s greatly sped up his tempo on the mound and balanced things out on the mound, helping him to have a much easier time repeating his delivery. The results have been a much more consistent ability to pound the strike zone. Woodruff begins in an upright position at set, and has a quick turn and a modest leg kick on his way to the plate, releasing the ball from a high three-quarters arm slot.
Woodruff’s stuff has ticked up a bit as a professional and he’s gained velocity since being drafted in 2014. His fastball grades out as plus, sitting in the 93-95 MPH range and having touched 97 MPH at times. He gets plenty of late sinking action on the pitch, helping to generate an above-average amount of ground balls. His slider is considered to be an above-average offering, most often sitting around 83-86 MPH. It doesn’t quite have the same bite as some of the premium sliders we see at the big league level, but it gets good movement and is Woodruff’s swing-and-miss pitch. He also throws a changeup that scouts say is average, though its quality does lag a little bit behind his other two pitches. He throws it pretty firmly, often reaching batters at around 87-88 MPH. Woodruff’s cache of pitches plays up during his starts due to his above-average to plus command of the strike zone.
Woodruff has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success during his short time in the minor leagues, compiling a 3.31 ERA across 389.0 innings pitched since he was drafted in 2014. His first two seasons - 2014 in Helena and 2015 in Brevard County - saw him struggle to miss bats a bit while posting respectable ERA totals. But his stuff ticked up in 2016, leading to a breakout season split between high-A Brevard County and AA Biloxi: a 2.68 earned run average across 158.0 innings with a 173:40 K/BB ratio and just 6 home runs allowed.
That success has mostly carried over for the AAA Sky Sox in 2017. In 15 starts and 72.2 innings pitched, Woodruff has posted a 4.46 ERA with 70 strikeouts and 24 walks. The harsh environs of Colorado Springs have no doubt bloated his ERA a bit, however. Deserved Run Average feels he’s been quite a bit better than his run prevention numbers suggest, crediting him with a 3.55 mark that ranks 33% better than league average. By DRA, Woodruff has been one of the most successful pitchers in the Pacific Coast League this season.
Woodruff appears to have both the physical profile and stuff/command to become a mid-rotation starter at the big league level when all is said and done. If he can continue to make strides with the changeup and eventually have plus command of 3 above-average pitches, he could even perhaps perform as a #2 starter for a few seasons. With former ace Junior Guerra now exiled to the minor leagues, Woodruff should have the opportunity to make a few starts before Chase Anderson returns to action later this month. If things go as well as the Brewers hope, Woodruff could carve himself out a role in the rotation even after Anderson is healthy, taking the ball every 5 days down the stretch as the Milwaukee Nine continue to battle for a playoff berth.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and Fangraphs