Everything clicks for Braves' Woods in AFL

November 12th, 2021

Braves right-hander William Woods finished off his fourth and final inning of work for the Peoria Javelinas on Thursday night and breathed a little sigh of relief. It's what he always felt he’s capable of when healthy.

“Yeah, it was really nice,” Woods said. “It's like one of those, 'A-ha!' moments. Everything clicked and it was working for me.”

Woods' clicking turned into four scoreless innings, with just two hits, one walk and seven strikeouts as Peoria turned in a rare Arizona Fall League shutout, blanking the Scottsdale Scorpions, 4-0.

The “when healthy” part has been tough for Woods in 2021. There was some anticipation this season for the junior college product taken in the 23rd round of the 2018 Draft. His stuff was trending upward in '19 during his full-season debut before he earned an invite to big league camp this spring after performing well at the Braves’ alternate training site in '20.

All that came to a screeching halt when a balky right elbow forced him to the sidelines. The 22-year-old didn’t return until August and collected just 10 2/3 regular-season innings before finishing with a start in the Double-A playoffs. One of the biggest reasons the right-hander was sent to the AFL was to try and get back on course. Given how much time he’s missed between the COVID-19 pandemic and the elbow issue, it’s been a bit up and down, though Thursday’s outing lowered his Fall League ERA to 4.24. He has 17 strikeouts in 17 innings.

“It's been a learning process because I haven't had many innings in the past two years, so there's been a lot of rust,” Woods said. “[The injury] was pretty concerning. It's definitely something that you don't want to go through. It helped me grow as a person.

"Every aspect of everything -- just being down for that long, not being able to play or work on everything. It was definitely scary.”

While Woods was reluctant to let it fly when he first returned to the mound with High-A Rome late this year, he feels he’s back to just letting it go. And he has plenty of stuff to get hitters out. Command has been an issue overall, but when he’s locked in like he was Thursday, the Braves' No. 28 prospect can be awfully tough to hit, especially as he’s learning to become a more complete pitcher.

“Lately, I've been trying to mix it up more instead of just trying to establish my fastball early on,” Woods said. “So I would use that to my advantage. I'll throw my offspeed for strikes in the zone, and then I'll just work my fastball up in the zone and they usually swing through it. Unless they get a hold of it -- which they didn't tonight -- which was really cool.”

When Woods exited the game, there was no score. Scottsdale starter Connor Seabold (BOS 13) nearly matched Woods with three shutout frames, allowing one hit and striking out six.

It wasn’t until the fifth that Peoria got on the board, courtesy of the first AFL homer by Bryson Stott. The shortstop went 3-for-5 to raise his slash line to .319/.454/.458. Philadelphia's No. 2 prospect is tied for second in the Fall League with 22 RBIs.

Jose Caballero (Mariners) and Luke Waddell (ATL 29) delivered run-scoring singles in the sixth and Logan O’Hoppe (PHI 11) singled for the second time in the game. He drove in Nick Gonzales (PIT 4), whose 2-for-5 showing gave him the lead in the AFL batting race with a .382 average.

Woods was able to sit back and watch the offense come alive and help the Javelinas win their third straight, knowing he's once again creating buzz in the Braves organization. He wishes the season was just getting underway.

“It’s just now getting started for me,” Woods said. “It feels good to be able to show your stuff and be able to show what you're made of. And whenever you get an opportunity, you just got to take advantage of it.”