|Woodward, image- BaseballBetsy|
A year removed from a college season and a professional draft that were shortened due the global pandemic, hurler J.P. Woodward is at perfect peace with the resulting decisions he made.
Primarily a starter in college, Woodward, a left-hander, now has a relief role with the Class A Clearwater Threshers. Through 11 appearances this season, Woodward sports a 1-0 record, 2.63 ERA and .204 batting average against while striking out 16 and walking five in 13 2/3 innings.
The six-foot-six 215-pounder didn't truly think he'd pitch in college, let alone professionally, as his velocity topped out at 80 MPH as a high schooler in Maryland. He was a true walk-on at Lafayette College in PA and began to make a name for himself as he excelled and developed. The summer following his sophomore season, Woodward competed in the highly regarded Cape Code League and began to draw attention from scouts.
A coach in the Cape League referenced Woodward's "big-ass hands", suggesting that he tried throwing a splitter. Some practice with the new offering produced exceptional results, as the brand new menu item would fall right off the table. Confidence has increased with the pitch and it now holds a spot among his arsenal where a change up might normally reside. It works well with his sinking fastball, which regularly clocks in low-90's as well as his slider.
Equipped with the weapons that would likely have him placing somewhere between the 10th and 20th rounds of a traditional draft, Woodward had a big choice to make when COVID-19 cancelled his college season with the Leopards, cut the MLB draft down to five rounds and capped undrafted free agent signing bonuses at $20,000.
He, of course, had the option to presume pandemic restrictions would be resolved months later, then return to school for his senior year and enter into a more traditional draft. Discussions with family members, friends, coaches, scouts took place as Woodward spent weeks pondering his options.
"I thought about, 'What would you say if you had a chance to play pro baseball?' And I said (to myself), 'I don't wanna live in regret. God forbid if something happened this year, my hypothetical senior year, if I got hurt or something happened and I did not get the chance to play pro.' I just couldn't live with that idea, so I decided to sign," Woodward explained.
The decision to begin his professional career wasn't the only one to make, however, as it was also necessary to choose an organization that would be best for Woodward's interests.
"I really enjoyed the benefits of having a close knit group and not feeling like a small fish in a big pond and, you know, the Phillies are a big organization, but they really preached (closeness and togetherness) and it struck a cord with me," Woodward shared about why he selected the Phils to be his employer.
A solid rapport with area scout Jeff Zona was also key. It helped Woodward know that no matter the value of the singing bonus, $20,000 or $1.2 million, everyone would be given a chance to succeed. That's the philosophy that was the deciding factor and resulted in putting pen to paper with the Phillies.
Last week the 22-year-old notched his first professional win. Woodward caught some flack from some of the same people he looked to for advice when electing to turn pro, for not retaining a baseball from the contest as a memento of his initial pro victory. According to the young prospect, however, nabbing a souvenir wasn't on his mind at all.
"I think it's more important that I helped us win the game more than having the 1-0 in the stat column," Woodward expressed about his team-first focus. "I've kind of just had this mindset of go in and do a job and, you know, just go in and pitch with as much intent as you can and the results are going to be the results."
If the results of his choices and determined efforts continue on the same path, Phillies fans will be all for it.