Woods Richardson encouraged by early returns

March 5th, 2022

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Simeon Woods Richardson describes himself as an "assassin" with a "death stare" when he's on the mound, but even he couldn't help but crack a smile after he struck out Austin Martin with a wicked curveball at the knees to conclude his live session from the Hammond Stadium mound on Thursday.

The pair of teammates in both the Toronto and Minnesota systems often pick each other's brains after facing off in such live sessions, and that kind of strikeout against a contact hitter of Martin's caliber just served to back up what Woods Richardson had already heard from others this spring.

"Pretty much everybody’s telling me it’s hard to pick up some certain things, which is great on my end because I’ve really been working on that," Woods Richardson said, "Mechanically, I’ve been working on a bunch of stuff, watching video, watching film, watching everything. It’s starting to all click again, so I’m pretty happy."

When it's tough for hitters to track Woods Richardson's plus offerings out of his hand, good luck to them. The fastball sat 92-94 mph and touched 95 on Thursday, complemented with a plus slider and curveball and a changeup described by MLB Pipeline as one of the best in the Twins' system. The key to the 21-year-old's success, then, is in his consistency -- and it's hard to blame him for struggling with that last season.

Not only did Woods Richardson switch organizations for the second time in his career when he arrived in the Twins' system in a 2021 Trade Deadline deal with the Blue Jays, but his Minor League season was also disrupted when he traveled to Tokyo as part of Team USA for the Olympic Games, necessitating a buildup back to action when he arrived back in the States.

The right-hander threw only eight innings across four outings for Double-A Wichita following the trade, struggling with his control as he struck out 10 and walked eight. He was largely able to stick to his routine through all that time, but the offseason still came as a welcome respite.

"Definitely a little breather," Woods Richardson said. "Could take a little deep breath for a second, you know?"

But it was right back to work for the club's No. 4 prospect, as he reported early to one of Minnesota's targeted January camps for extra work, offering the Twins' player development personnel the chance to see him in extended action for the first time since the trade. There, they worked to try and get his velocity back up and get him back into the strike zone, and the progress Woods Richardson sees in his early returns in camp are encouraging.

He's tried to clean up the consistency of his back-leg usage and his landing point as part of his delivery, and he's assessed lots of his film to identify mechanical issues that could help him throw more strikes after he uncharacteristically walked 34 in 53 1/3 innings last season. Woods Richardson has also utilized the Twins' trove of data to better understand his strengths and weaknesses and feels that he understands himself as a pitcher much more effectively as a result.

Woods Richardson is no big stranger to these kinds of life changes, considering he was also involved in a noteworthy trade between the Mets and Blue Jays in 2019 that means he's pitched for three organizations in three seasons. For what it's worth, Woods Richardson said the second trade was easier (the 3:30 a.m. call in Tokyo to inform him of the deal aside) and understands his involvements in such big-name trades is an indication of how highly he's viewed.

"I take all of that as a big compliment and an honor, man," Woods Richardson said. "To hold value and be traded in that position anyways, it says a lot about the player, the person and the character. I'm honored for that. It just means I've got to put in the work."

Once the consistency improves, the quality of the right-hander's stuff and his mentality are more than enough to carry him into the big leagues, and while he's set the goal of making it all the way to the Twins this season, there's no real rush considering he pitched much of last season in Double-A as a 20-year-old and will need to build up as a result of his abbreviated workload last season.

But he can dream -- and his stuff gives him good reason to.

"Wherever I start out, it’s where you finish, and [the big leagues have] been my goal ever since I started playing this game," Woods Richardson said. "That will never stop being a goal. Mechanically, I know myself better than I did last year, know my game better than I did last year, [and I] know everything that I can do to help the team win."