Wood feels like he belongs, but still in awe of stars

Wood feels like he belongs, but still in awe of stars

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Most young pitchers pretend not to notice when All-Stars step into the batter's box. And then there's Alex Wood. Wood, a 23-year-old southpaw for the Braves, was still in college less than two years ago, so he's not afraid to express awe at facing a batter like David Ortiz.

Wood, who shot through Atlanta's Minor League system at a stunning pace, tossed three scoreless innings against the Red Sox on Friday, and he struck out Ortiz in the second inning. Wood got Ortiz looking on a breaking ball, and he spoke later in the day about what that meant to him.

"You could definitely feel Big Papi's presence when he got in the box. He has that swagger about him," said Wood, admitting an elemental fact that many pitchers would rather deny. "He just gets in the box and it's like, 'Well, darn. That's Big Papi.' He's such a great hitter and he's done so many great things. It was pretty neat to throw to him and [Dustin] Pedroia and some of those other guys today."

Wood, who has pitched just 24 games in the Minor Leagues, is one of Atlanta's fastest-rising prospects. The left-hander was drafted out of the University of Georgia in the second round in 2012, and after making 13 starts for Class A Rome, he positioned himself for a breakout season.

Wood went 4-2 with a 1.26 ERA for Double-A Mississippi last year, and the Braves called him up to the big leagues for the first time at the end of May. Wood, despite not having a long Minor League career, thrived with the Braves, logging a 3.13 ERA and a 3-3 record in 31 appearances in the Majors.

Now, one spring later, he feels like he belongs. Wood can't help but smile as he thinks about how far he's come in such a short period of time, and he admits he feels much more comfortable now.

"It's funny you ask. I was just thinking about that to myself earlier," said Wood during Atlanta's 4-1 loss to Boston. "It's funny because today, I was still a little nervous going in there. I think it's good nerves. It keeps you on your toes. And it's not just this atmosphere down here, throwing against the defending world champions. It's the competition, like we talked about last week, within the organization."

Atlanta, as usual, is flush with young pitching talent. Julio Teheran, Mike Minor and Kris Medlen -- all developed within the organization -- made 93 of Atlanta's 162 starts last season. Another homegrown arm, Brandon Beachy, returned to the fold last July after reconstructive surgery on his elbow.

Wood fits right in with those high-caliber arms, and he said he worked on his breaking ball this winter pretty much the very first time he picked up a baseball. Manager Fredi Gonzalez was thrilled with what he saw from Wood on Friday, and he's hoping to see more of the same for a long time to come.

"We think really high of him. He doesn't get spooked," said Gonzalez. "Last year, he came in from just pitching college baseball. And we brought him in to the Major Leagues and he was successful. He gets excited and he competes. He's a bulldog on the mound. ... He's a guy that likes to compete. He pounds the strike zone. He really does. He just keeps giving you good outing after good outing."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.