SWR provides highlight with sharp -- if brief -- debut

February 26th, 2024

TAMPA -- After a bus ride of nearly three hours, Twins right-hander threw all of 17 pitches. Was it worth the effort?


The abbreviated workload was just the start for Woods Richardson, who will continue building up and progressing throughout the Grapefruit League slate. Monday afternoon, Woods Richardson retired the Yankees with a three-up, three-down first inning, including a fastball that hit 94 mph and a full-count changeup that froze Juan Soto for a called strike three.

After he was long gone from the Twins’ 9-2 defeat to the Yankees at Steinbrenner Field, Woods Richardson pronounced himself pleased.

“It’s a good reinforcement, and it goes back to what we’ve been working on all offseason,’’ said Woods Richardson, the club’s No. 17 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. “You’re seeing progress, which is good, but you’re still trying to throw strikes and execute.

“First time back in a competitive setting, you have people around you, you’ve got fans, you have great hitters in the box. So it’s more just staying mechanically and fundamentally sound while just trying to execute pitches right now.’’

Twins manager Rocco Baldelli described Woods Richardson’s outing as “a highlight for us today.’’

“His stuff has been really nice this spring,’’ Baldelli said. “He has the really good life [on his fastball]. Coming out of his hand, it looks like it’s going to go below the zone, but he has that hop on the pitch. Guys end up either taking it or taking some awkward swings on it. When his stuff is where it’s at right now, I think he has a chance to be really effective.’’

Woods Richardson got leadoff batter DJ LeMahieu on a well-hit fly ball to center field and Gleyber Torres on a routine grounder, but those results were sandwiched around the at-bat of Soto, the Yankees’ celebrated offseason acquisition.

“It’s early in the spring, so I just had to execute it [a full-count changeup],’’ Woods Richardson said. “I knew if I executed, I had a good opportunity. He [Soto] gave me a little shuffle [like he thought it was ball four], so it’s always fun to see that. But yeah, it was all good.’’

Woods Richardson, a second-round pick of the Mets in the 2018 MLB Draft, has been traded twice in big-name deals. He went from the Mets to the Blue Jays in the '19 Marcus Stroman trade, then from Toronto to the Twins in the '21 deal for Jose Berrios.

Great potential still exists for Woods Richardson, 23, who had one late-season start for the Twins in 2022 and another MLB relief appearance in '23. He has changed his arm angle from a strictly 12 o’clock release down a few slots.

“I was very much over the top, but the Twins got me [to alter the arm angle], and we’re trying to figure out the way to enhance my potential,’’ Woods Richardson said. “It was funny at first, but now we’re getting pretty comfortable.

“Everything in baseball is a daily adjustment. You’ve got guys who played long careers, and they are working on the same thing every single day. It’s one of those things where you just have to believe in it and trust it. You can’t get discouraged. You stay the course and see what happens.’’

Woods Richardson learned that lesson last season with the Triple-A St. Paul Saints -- close enough to taste his potential MLB home -- when he seemed to take a step backward (7-6, 4.91 ERA). But he remained positive.

“I was [0-6] and ended up breaking even,’’ Woods Richardson said. “It’s pretty good to even back up. I took it day by day and didn’t really try to abandon anything or veer off to another road. The name of the game is consistency. Just stay the course.’’

That’s his Spring Training strategy, too.

It was just one inning Monday, then another far bus ride of nearly three hours back to Fort Myers.

Overall, though, it’s so far, so good.