Woods Richardson impresses vs. Yanks' stars

March 4th, 2021

TAMPA -- The Blue Jays threw No. 4 prospect Simeon Woods Richardson into the deep end against a batting champ, two home run kings (including an MVP), and the 20-year-old didn’t blink.

That “20” can be misleading. Mature beyond his years, this just looked like another game for Woods Richardson on the mound. Going up against a stacked Yankees lineup with his family in the stands had to be surreal, though, even if only for a moment.

“When it first started, just hearing ‘DJ LeMahieu,’ just hearing ‘Aaron Judge,’ just hearing ‘Giancarlo Stanton,’ just hearing those names and looking up and they’re actually in the box,” Woods Richardson said after a 4-1 Yankees win, called after seven innings. “You’re not watching these guys on TV anymore. You’re actually facing them.”

Earlier in the day, after the Yankees’ lineup was sent out, Woods Richardson started getting the question. Had he seen it? Did he know who he’d be facing under the lights at George M. Steinbrenner Field that night? He took a look and loved what he saw.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was actually glad I got to face their best guys and a had a great defense behind me that made great plays," Woods Richardson said. "That’s how this game went today. Great defensive plays.”

Woods Richardson tossed two scoreless innings with only one walk allowed, getting a hand defensively, like he mentioned, with two outstanding plays in the outfield from Josh Palacios and Chavez Young. There were times where Woods Richardson fell behind in counts early as just 14 of his 28 pitches went for strikes, but it was an impressive first look of spring nonetheless.

His four-seam fastball averaged 92.7 mph, according to Statcast, while he worked in nine curveballs, a handful of sliders and a couple of changeups. That changeup will be a key for Woods Richardson long-term to round out a deep arsenal, so while he’d like to be in the zone more next time, he left the start happy with his performance and his ability to stay loose on the mound. He struck out Stanton on three pitches in an impressive sequence.

“You might have seen me head-bobbing and shaking my head, I was just trying to be myself as much as possible and be as comfortable as possible,” the right-hander said. “Even though the adrenaline is coming and the anticipation of the game is coming, I’ve still got to remember to take a deep breath, get on the mound, attack the strike zone and be myself.”

His manager noticed, too. Charlie Montoyo’s pitching staff has gotten off to a fairly clean start this spring from its veterans on down.

“I was impressed. It was good to see,” Montoyo said. “He attacked the hitters very well with a good fastball, an outstanding changeup. It was a good outing for him. He was impressive and he wasn’t nervous, that’s what I like about him.”

Woods Richardson will have an opportunity to move quickly after he opens this season in the Minors, and a late-season promotion can’t be ruled out entirely. Toronto’s pitching depth makes this a much more competitive group than it was a couple of seasons ago, and that was on display as Woods Richardson handed off to No. 5 prospect Alek Manoah, who kept the ball rolling with two strong innings of his own.

The 2021 season will stretch the definition of traditional pitching roles, too, which could open up some avenues for younger pitchers in the organization who get out to a hot start. As rotations across baseball work to stretch back to 162 games, many clubs will employ piggyback strategies or a greater emphasis on multi-inning relief arms. It’s something the Blue Jays handled well in 2020 with success stories like Thomas Hatch.

Woods Richardson won’t say that the young arms compete against one another. Instead, they push each other.

“We’re always hungry and we always want more,” Woods Richardson said. “We have a great group of guys who want to win championships, who want to win, who want to pound the strike zone, who want to get better every day. Just having that mindset around the clubhouse and with a bunch of veteran guys, it’s a great mix. We’re all hungry. We all want to win.”

Wednesday was a dress rehearsal and it came on a cool night in early March, far from the stage of Yankee Stadium or Rogers Centre, but it was another fine step in the right direction for the Blue Jays prospect who’s made many of those lately.