One of those players is already a well-known name for UGA baseball fans: Pitcher Alex Wood, who was one the Bulldogs’ top pitchers this past season.
Atlanta drafted the red-shirt sophomore in the second round of this summer’s First-Year player draft with the 85th overall pick. Going into the draft, Wood was ranked the No. 42 best prospect in the nation by MLB.com and No. 54 by Baseball America.
College pitchers aren’t usually eligible for the draft until after their junior season, but if a player is red-shirted then they can enter the draft early.
Wood, the 6-4 left hander, made his professional debut for the Braves on Monday night at State Mutual Stadium. Wood threw two innings allowing just two hits and striking out four. The Rome Braves went on to win the game 4-2.
“It felt pretty good and I’m just glad I wasn’t as rusty as I thought I was going to be after not throwing live in a game for little over a month,” said Wood. “It was definitely exciting and it was good to get back out there and get a feel for the competition and how it’s going to be down the road.
“So it was definitely exciting. I’m happy I’ve got the debut in the bag now so I can get to work and start going deeper into games and hopefully getting some more wins for these guys.”
Rome manager Randy Ingle has seen his share of pitchers in his 30 plus years with the Braves, and he knows how different a player coming out of high school and a pitcher coming out of a top notch Division I program can be.
“He got his feet wet tonight, and I really liked what I saw,” said Ingle. “I thought he threw the ball well, had plus stuff, the ball came out of his hand really well, and he was aggressive.
“When they come from a good college program like he did coming from Georgia they have a little bit more experience. The SEC is a tough conference and you’re facing good competition every time you go out there and this is just another challenge for him, and tonight he rose to the occasion.”
Rome pitching coach Derrick Lewis also liked what he saw out of Wood in his debut.
“He was good, under control, good mound presence, was aggressive, attacked the zone, and it was good start for him,” said Lewis. “It was my first time seeing him but I see quality stuff, fastball had good life, good deception, breaking ball, good three-pitch mix, and he’s got a good feel for pitching.
“You can tell he’s a seasoned guy, and seeing the good competition he saw only helped prepare him. Good competition only makes you better, and the better competition you play the better you understand things.”
This past season at Georgia, Wood posted a 7-3 record with an ERA of 2.73 in 102 1-3 innings with just 20 walks to 100 strikeouts. Over his career with the Bulldogs, Wood finished with a 13-10 record and a 3.57 ERA in 32 games.
“It was pretty special and it was definitely three of the best years of my life,” said Wood. “I made some lifelong friends there aren’t many places you can get the experience that you get from playing in the SEC every weekend.
“It was very special and I will have those memories for the rest of my life for sure. The caliber of competition that you see day in and day out in the SEC is as close in my opinion to this level as your going to get until you’re here. I think it definitely prepared me as good as I can be prepared, and I’m just excited to see what the road holds for me.”
The Charlotte, N.C. product’s career at Georgia did not start off quickly, as he was given a medical red shirt his first season on campus. Wood was recovering from “Tommy John” surgery, and as soon as he did recover Wood started to make an impact for the Bulldogs.
“It was a long road for sure. You can be back in nine or 10 months, and I actually threw in a game after nine and half months, but it’s a solid 18 (months) till your back to where you want to be,” said Wood. “My first full year back was definitely a little bit of a learning experience for me.
“I feel like it was a way bigger jump going from facing high school hitters to the SEC hitters than it is going from SEC hitters to here now. So that first year back was definitely a big learning experience and I feel like I learned a lot.”
Wood grew up a Georgia fan since his father, Richard, went to UGA. Woods father, mother Carol, and younger sister Stephanie, who is currently enrolled at UGA, were all in attendance to see Alex’s debut.
“My dad went to Georgia so I grew up bleeding red and black,” said Wood. “I knew once I took my first unofficial visit there, I knew that’s where I wanted to go. They emailed me the day after I left and said that the next time I came there they were going to offer me a scholarship so I canceled the rest of my visits to others schools, and I went back the next weekend and committed.”
Woods grew up cheering for two professional teams growing up, the Braves and oddly enough the New York Mets.
“My dad’s actually from Long Island so I was split between the Braves and Mets, which is kind of weird combination,” Wood said with a laugh. “It’s definitely special getting the opportunity to play for the Braves.
“Especially after going to school at Georgia and having my closest friends being absolute die-hard Braves fans. It’s extremely exciting to get to play for the Braves and it’s pretty special. It’s pretty hard to even put words to describe how special it is.”