He doesn't come risk-free, but there's no question teams are getting a nice, long look at Georgia's lefty ace, Alex Wood.
The southpaw has been moving steadily up the charts. Wood has pitched extremely well, especially of late, as the Bulldogs' Friday starter. Wood's 2.58 ERA puts him third in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference. Chris Stratton, the subject of last week's Helium update, tops the conference at 2.16.
In his last three starts, following a no-decision against LSU and top Draft prospect Kevin Gausman, Wood has been among the best in the country. Over 24 innings, he's allowed six earned runs (2.25 ERA) on 19 hits while walking just three and striking out 24. It comes at a perfect time for Wood, as scouts have been lamenting the lack of quality Friday night starters in the college game this season.
The risk part is his injury history. Wood is a redshirt sophomore due to 2009 Tommy John surgery that caused him to miss almost his entire freshman season in 2010. Add to that an unusual delivery that has scouts concerned, and there are some question marks surrounding Wood.
That being said, Wood is a lefty who reaches the mid-90s with his fastball, commands the baseball well and has been successful in perhaps the best college conference in the country. Georgia squeaked into the SEC Tournament as the No. 8 seed (out of 10), and the Bulldogs open play on Tuesday. That might give scouts one more opportunity to see Wood on the mound before the Draft rolls around.
It's hard to know exactly what to make of Florida two-way standout Brian Johnson.
Some of it is the nature of Johnson being a multifaceted talent. Most teams entered the year thinking his future was definitively on the mound, the kind of advanced college lefty who, while without a huge ceiling, could make it to a big league rotation fairly quickly. But Johnson hasn't performed very well for the Gators as their Saturday starter. The southpaw has gone 6-4 with a 3.84 ERA, allowing 71 hits in 72 innings, with 15 walks and 59 strikeouts.
The numbers look better after a quality outing this past weekend. Johnson tossed seven innings against Auburn, allowing just one unearned run for the win. It was a good turnaround, especially since Johnson wasn't able to make his previous start after a slight hamstring issue. Whether that one start is enough to offset what's been a largely lackluster junior campaign on the mound remains to be seen.
What has happened, though, is more teams are taking a closer look at Johnson's offensive skills. Johnson has hit .313/.351/.469 for the Gators, but more than one scout has talked about his power potential from the left side of the plate.
Florida is the No. 3 seed in the SEC tourney, opening play on Tuesday against Auburn. Like with Wood, there will be many scouts on hand to watch Johnson in action. Unlike Wood, Johnson will undoubtedly be watched on both sides of the ball. Once thought of as a sure-fire first-rounder, how Johnson finishes could determine just how high he eventually goes.
On the shelf
While most of the discussion about injured high school pitching has centered around Lucas Giolito, he's not the only big-name prepster who hasn't been able to get on the mound.
Matthew Smoral has the size and stuff to be a first-round pick. As an added bonus, he's left-handed. But the Solon High School (Ohio) product hasn't pitched since April. And he won't get back on the mound before the Draft.
"It will come down to what evaluations teams got prior to the injury," a scouting director said. "A whole lot of teams have very little information. Do you want your first-round pick to be based on what you saw last summer?"
The one thing working in Smoral's favor is that unlike Giolito, who has an injured elbow, his injury is not arm-related. The southpaw suffered a stress fracture in his foot, an injury that's not expected to be healed until the end of June. But while there won't be any pre-Draft evaluations, he will be able to pitch this summer, and there's no concern about the long-term effects of a broken foot.
"A fractured foot shouldn't be a real bad problem in the long term," the scouting director said. "When you're talking about an elbow, it could be significant. At the very worst, Smoral should be pitching for someone at [the instructional league]."
Week in review
Some notes from around the amateur scene in the week that was:
The matchup of the weekend came on Thursday (many college conferences moved up their typical Friday-Sunday schedule to Thursday-Saturday in advance of conference tournament play this week) in the Big 12. Neither Texas A&M's Michael Wacha nor Oklahoma State's Andrew Heaney figured in the decision, but there were many scouts, cross-checkers and directors on hand to see both probable first-rounders throw. Both pitched fairly well, with Heaney getting the nod as top performer. Wacha went 6 2/3 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits, with no walks and four strikeouts. Heney pitched 8 1/3 innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits, with two walks and 12 strikeouts. As one scout put it, "Both were good, but Heaney will get more big leaguers out."
Granted, it was against a weak Utah club, but potential No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel threw a four-hit shutout, walking just one and striking out 13. Over his last four starts, the right-hander has pitched 31 innings and has allowed just five earned runs (1.45 ERA) on 27 hits, with two walks and 37 strikeouts.
Weekly Max Fried update: As noted on the blog, Fried rebounded nicely in his playoff start last Thursday, tossing a shutout and maintaining his stuff throughout his outing. It left one scout to conclude he'll be gone in the top 10 on Draft Day.