February 25, 2013 - Midwest League (MWL) - Dayton Dragons
What Dragon was the most highly-rated left-handed pitching prospect over the franchise's first 13 seasons? He was a member of the 2006 Dragons, a team filled with future big leaguers. When he played for the Dragons, he was rated as the #3 prospect in the entire Reds organization, trailing only Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce. He was the 44th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues when he debuted with the Reds in 2010, and he now pitches for the Chicago Cubs. He is starting pitcher Travis Wood.
Wood was the Reds second draft pick in 2005, taken after they had selected Bruce in the first round. Wood joined the Reds organization out of Bryant High School just outside Little Rock, Arkansas. His fastball was known to reach 94-95 mph at the time he was drafted, and he possessed a tremendous change-up. The combination put him among the top five high school left-handed pitchers in the nation in the 2005 draft.
Wood's first year of professional baseball went even better than expected. He started his career where most high school prospects begin, at the lowest level of the Minor Leagues. He made seven starts in the summer of 2005 with the Gulf Coast League Reds and allowed a total of two earned runs. That performance earned him a quick promotion to Billings, where he would pitch against mostly hitters from the college ranks. Wood again was dominant. In 24 innings with Billings, he allowed just five earned runs. His overall numbers in his first summer of professional baseball in 2005 featured a 2-0 record and a 1.31 earned run average.
Wood's outstanding first half-season in the Reds organization earned him a spot on the Dragons roster in 2006 as a 19-year-old. He was given the honor of being the Dragons opening night starting pitcher as part of a starting rotation that also included future Major Leaguers Johnny Cueto, Carlos Fisher, and Jeff Stevens.
Wood's first start with the Dragons resulted in a no-decision, but his second start was an indication of things to come. He struck out 10 Lansing batters in just five shutout innings, walking only one and allowing only four hits to earn his first Midwest League win. By the end of June, Wood was 6-0, holding opposing batters to a sub-.200 average, and averaging over a strikeout an inning.
Wood made 27 starts for the Dragons in 2006 to tie the club record that has not been matched since that season. He finished the year with a 10-5 record and a 3.66 ERA. Opposing batters hit a combined .215 against Wood. He finished strong, allowing just one run over his last 20 innings. It was an excellent year.
In 2007, Wood battled shoulder problems that limited him to just 12 starts at Sarasota. His 2008 season again brought frustration as he struggled with the jump to Double-A and dropped completely off the Baseball America list of top-30 prospects in the Reds organization. Heading into 2009, Wood needed a big season to get back on track, and he delivered.
Wood spent most of the 2009 season with Double-A Carolina and put up one of the finest seasons in recent Southern League history. In 19 starts, he allowed a total of 16 earned runs to win the league ERA title with an eye-popping, Gibson-like mark of 1.21. He earned Reds Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Southern League Pitcher of the Year, and Minor League Baseball's Class-AA Starting Pitcher of the Year. He also made eight effective Triple-A starts with Louisville to close out the season, running his final record for the year to 13-5. Baseball America jumped Wood back onto the prospect list, placing him at #7 in the Reds organization, the #2 pitching prospect.
Wood spent the first three months of the 2010 season with Louisville before being called up to the Reds for his Major League debut on July 1. In Wood's third career start on July 10 against Philadelphia, he took a perfect game into the ninth inning. At the time, the Reds had gone 22 years since their last no-hitter and had recorded only one perfect game in franchise history. Wood allowed a lead-off double to start the ninth to Carlos Ruiz to break up the perfect game, and that was the only base runner against him over nine shutout innings as Wood struck out eight. However, the game went to extra innings as a 0-0 dogfight, so Wood came away with no decision in what would surely rank as one of the finest pitching performances by a Reds starter in the last 20 years.
Wood finished the 2010 season with a 5-4 record and a 3.51 ERA in 17 starts for the Reds as he emerged as one of the top rookie pitchers in the National League. He also threw three and one-third scoreless innings in the playoffs.
Wood battled inconsistency during the 2011 season and spent some time back in the Minor Leagues. He went 6-6 with the Reds with a 4.84 ERA. Following the season, Wood was a key piece in a four-player trade with the Cubs that brought relief pitcher Sean Marshall to Cincinnati. Former Dragons Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes also went to Chicago in the trade. Wood made 26 starts for the Cubs in 2012, pitching for a team that lost 101 games. Wood went 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA.
Wood is still just 26 years old and capable of a long and rewarding Major League career. He was part of a memorable 2006 Dragons team that featured 10 future big leaguers, including Bruce, Cueto, Fisher, Paul Janish, and Logan Ondrusek. Travis Wood was the 44th Dragons player to reach the Majors.