GLENDALE, Ariz. – A hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League? Not if Bryan Woo has his say. Despite having just 13 starts above Rookie-ball under his belt, the Mariners’ No. 15 prospect befuddled the Glendale bats on AFL Opening Day en route to four no-hit frames.
Traditionally, the Fall League has seen a prevalence of offensive output. But while Woo’s first time on the mound since Sept. 11 came with some nerves, his stuff belied a right-hander who is out to finish his first pro season strong.
Woo struck out five batters with just one walk and one hit-by-pitch to his ledger, setting the tone for a pitching-heavy day. Peoria stormed back with a five-run ninth to claim the season opener, 5-3, at Camelback Ranch.
After an errant pitch in the second struck No. 7 Brewers prospect Jeferson Quero in the helmet, Woo bounced back to retire the final seven hitters he faced, three via the strikeout.
“The fastball was moving around well,” Woo said. “I was able to command it at the top of the zone a lot. I was able to come in, and that opened up a lot of other pitches in spots for me.”
Woo, a sixth-round selection in the 2021 Draft out of Cal Poly, saw his Draft stock fall after he required Tommy John surgery while in college. Known for a fastball that can reach the upper-90s on occasion, the righty utilized the pitch to quell a potent Desert Dogs starting nine.
The 22-year-old began the year with three scoreless appearances at the Arizona Complex League. From there, he rocketed up through the club’s system, culminating with seven starts for High-A Everett. In total, he compiled a 4.11 ERA over 16 starts and accrued 84 strikeouts in just 57 innings.
“I was definitely shocked to hear that I made [the Fall League],” Woo said. “I knew that I’d be a decent candidate just because I missed so much of the year. And I kind of wanted to keep playing as well after the season ended.
“Definitely just glad I got the opportunity and super happy about it.”
Whereas Woo set the tone early, it was another Seattle prospect who emphatically had the last word: Robert Perez Jr.
Top-ranked Nationals prospect Robert Hassell III plated the first run of the furious ninth-inning comeback with a sacrifice fly, before Alberto Rodriguez -- Seattle’s No. 14 prospect -- socked an RBI single. With the Javelinas trailing by a run, Perez took a hearty cut at a 1-1 pitch and swatted a resounding drive into the opposing bullpen in left field. After contact, he playfully turned to absorb the cheers from his dugout.
“I put him on my ‘yard card,’ so I’m not going to take credit for it,” Woo said with a smile and a shrug. “[Perez] is an unbelievable talent, great guy.”
After swatting 20 homers and collecting 87 RBIs across 92 games with Single-A Modesto, Perez earned a call to Everett -- and put up even more production. Seattle’s No. 21 prospect slashed a gaudy .342/.477/.583 across 35 contests at High-A, giving him a .921 OPS on the year.
Woo, Perez’s teammate at two levels, said that his power is “unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
Peoria’s first win of the season was truly a Mariners affair, as right-hander Juan Then shut the door on the victory. Then is the rare two-time AFL participant, looking to build up his workload after a right elbow ailment sidetracked his year.
At the start of the game, Glendale righty Emmet Sheehan matched Woo step-for-step. The Dodgers’ No. 22 prospect threw his own three hitless innings, working around a walk and a hit-by-pitch in the second.
A fellow sixth-round selection in the 2021 Draft, Sheehan enjoyed a strong regular season spent primarily at High-A, where he posted a 2.83 ERA over 18 appearances. Having gotten a brief taste of Double-A prior to the Fall League, he has now reeled off 16 consecutive appearances allowing two earned runs or fewer.
Glendale’s Opening Day lineup held intrigue as to whether Matt McLain (the Reds’ No. 5 prospect/MLB's No. 73) or Noelvi Marte (No. 2/MLB's No. 17) would draw the first taste of shortstop duties. The duo are part of a Reds system that boasts a wealth of top-tier shortstop prospects, along with Elly De La Cruz (Reds’ No. 1/MLB's No. 14) and Edwin Arroyo (Reds' No. 3/MLB No. 52).
McLain got the start at short Monday, with Marte manning the hot corner. The talented left side of the infield batted second and third, respectively, with McLain drawing a pair of walks, while Marte went 1-for-5 with an infield hit.