Wood eager for MLB draft's first round

Although draft hype circled Georgia pitcher Alex Wood for most of the spring, the left-handed redshirt sophomore used the grind of the season to distract him from worrying about his professional prospects.

It wasn't until Monday afternoon, when the Bulldogs learned they would not receive an NCAA Regional bid, that the reality settled in that Wood's college career is most likely over.

"I really hadn't thought about any of this stuff too much until really when I got home on Monday night," the Charlotte, N.C., native said Thursday afternoon.

But after winning second-team All-SEC honors and posting a 7-3 record with a 2.73 ERA this season, Wood realizes that he has an excellent shot at being selected Monday in either the first round or supplemental round of the MLB first-year player draft.

Baseball America rates him as the No. 54 overall prospect in the draft, MLB.com places him at No. 42 and ESPN draft insider Kiley McDaniel last week ranked Wood as the No. 21 prospect he analyzed in person this year, so Wood expects to come off the board sometime Monday.

"Not to jinx anything, but I would be shocked if my name was still out there on people's boards for Tuesday," Wood said. "But obviously you never know with the draft. You never know what's going to go on and the surprises. But hopefully I won't be one of those surprises -- or if it's a surprise, it will be a good one and not a bad one."

Monday might be a good surprise for Wood if MLB clubs take Georgia coach David Perno's opinion into account. Wood pitched only 2/3 of an inning in 2010 while returning from Tommy John surgery from his senior year of high school. But Wood developed into a solid starter as a redshirt freshman and then became a star this spring.

Some draft analysts are split on whether Wood projects as a starter or reliever in the pros, but Perno said his role will not matter.

"Where do I see him? I see him as a big leaguer," Perno said. "Whether he helps them as a starter or whether he helps them as a bullpen guy, either way if that kid can stay healthy, he'll pitch in the big leagues. He's got too much stuff, too much between his ears and is just doing it for the right reasons."

Wood said a handful of teams have shown particular interest in his services, but is unsure where he ranks on their draft boards. He expects that picture to become clearer over the weekend as the draft approaches.

Some teams might hesitate to pull the trigger on Wood with a high pick because of his previous elbow injury, while others might not like his herky-jerky delivery to the plate. Perno said Wood might have to work to refine his delivery in the minors, but cautioned the team that picks him not to tinker with something that works simply because it is not a textbook pitching motion.

"You've got to realize that some of it makes him who he is," Perno said. "It's a little funky, it's a little awkward, but that's tough. You talk to a lot of hitters and they don't want to see funky and awkward, 6-foot-4 and 94 (mph) from the left side. You don't want to see that and it makes it tough. The thing that you look at is he throws strikes. I can live with the funky and awkward delivery if the guy is healthy and throws strikes and he did that."

Wood did not completely rule out a return to Georgia, but it will take an unlikely draft-day disaster for him to remain on the Bulldogs' roster in 2013 -- so the team's four-game losing streak to end the season was a particularly bitter conclusion for Wood.

"It was kind of bittersweet because obviously it's a new beginning for me, more than likely closing a chapter in the last three years of my life," he said. "It was tough because I worked so hard for those guys and they worked so hard for me and it's hard to leave on that note."

But he realizes his mid-90s fastball and a good curveball-changeup pairing as secondary pitches give him a chance to go in the draft's first 60 picks on Monday or likely no worse than Tuesday, when Rounds 2-15 will be held. Even if he is disappointed about the way Georgia's season ended, Wood has reason to be excited about the possibilities ahead once his draft wait ends.

"My goal from the beginning was to get into the top 50 and I think I did well enough to where I think I've got a legitimate shot of doing that," Wood said. "So if that happens, I'll be a pretty happy camper."