Kerry Wood's 20K Game, Peak Years, and Thinking About Pitching Prospects

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Kerry Wood’s 20K Game, Peak Years, and Thinking About Pitching Prospects

Chicago Cubs

I don’t know why Rob Friedman decided to re-share Kerry Wood’s 20K game today on Twitter, but I’m glad he did. It just felt nice to set aside anything else – lockout stuff, Bears stuff, the socks I accidentally dropped in the toilet – and enjoy some pure baseball nastiness.

So thank you to the Pitching Ninja for this:

One of the best pitching performances of all-time, and easily the best individual rookie appearance ever, right?

That rookie season proved to be Wood’s best by fWAR (4.4), though bWAR had him quite a bit more valuable in his fantastic 2003 season. Either way, it’s a bummer that we got only six and half-ish seasons from Wood as a starting pitcher, because he was plenty of fun to watch, and was consistently a 3 to 4-win starter.

His transition to the bullpen (at only 28) was largely successful, and kept him in the league another seven seasons, but it’s hard not to wonder what his career could’ve looked like with better arm health. Mark Prior gets the bulk of the “what could have been” attention, both because his starting success was at an even higher level and because his time was much shorter, but Wood falls into that category, too.

That, in turn, makes me think back to that rookie season, before the Tommy John surgery, and how that was probably the best version of Wood we’d ever see. He was just 20/21. Brand new to the big leagues, after exploding through the minors on a huge prospect hype train. Man, if that version of Wood could’ve stayed healthy and carried forward for another decade. Wild to even think about, and not something Cubs fans have even had to dream on over the last couple decades.

I’m not sure when we see another pitching prospect like Wood (or Prior) with the Cubs. Hey, maybe if they take the top high school pitching prospect with the 7th overall pick this year

Of course, to develop a Wood (or Prior), not only do you likely have to use some premium draft capital (or get very lucky with a 16-year-old international signing), but then you have to (1) keep them healthy through the development process, and (2) actually develop them to their highest and best ability at a relatively young age. And that’s just to get the prospect to the big leagues as an uber-hyped, really young arm! Then you have to actually get big league production and keep them healthy from there!

Brailyn Marquez at his prospect hype-y-est was probably the closest in the most recent years, but that really wasn’t all that close. Heck, the fact that he’s dealt with injuries and has yet to pitch at Double-A reminds you how hard it actually is to wind up with a Wood (or Prior).

Again, I’m not sure when that perfect situation is going to come along again for the Cubs to have one of those super-elite pitching prospects, which is why I appreciate so much that I got to watch Wood (and Prior) when I did, even if my mind inevitably wanders to what could have been.

Here’s hoping the improvements in the pitching development infrastructure will at least remove any impediments to that kind of development.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.