Wooden's records, prospects are on the rise

April 30, 1995|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,Sun Staff Writer

Mike Wooden hears the question frequently these days, and his answer always begins with a wry smile and some fidgeting.

A senior right-hander who has scouts flocking to No. 3 North County, Wooden already has signed a national letter of intent with the University of Maryland. He's comfortable with the decision. No second thoughts. No regrets.

But he also hears the rumors of how his stock is rising with each game. He's a record-setting pitcher with a blazing fastball and a nasty curve. And he's looking more like someone who could be taken in the first five rounds of the June amateur free-agent draft.

At times, Wooden sounds as if he can't wait to begin college and his accounting courses. But will college have to wait?

"I will sign professionally if the opportunity is there," he said. "Then again, how can you pass up a college scholarship? But I'll definitely sign if the money is right. It will have to be a lucrative offer."

Scouts from at least eight professional teams have sat behind the backstop with radar guns in hand, measuring a fastball that regularly comes in at 83-85 mph. They like his 6-foot-1, 190-pound build, flawless mechanics, determination and maturity.

"He's the kind of guy who you want to be a model for young players trying to learn," said Jim Gilbert, the Orioles' mid-Atlantic scouting supervisor. "He's always been very mature. He listens to everything he's told. And he can reach back and really do whatever he wants. And physically, he's still got a good ways to go and the body to fill it out."

He began this season by striking out 10 and allowing just two hits and no earned runs in a 4-3 win over Severna Park, and he hasn't let up. Six starts, six victories. Two earned runs and 62 strikeouts in 43 innings. And a state record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched (30 1/3 ).

Wooden, who also gets his changeup over for strikes, tied the state mark for consecutive shutouts (three) and career shutouts (six). And with 237 career strikeouts, he is 34 away from the Anne Arundel County public-school record of 271 set by Brooklyn Park's Dean Albany.

"Years from now, I'll look back and these records will mean a whole lot more," he said.

As a freshman, he was receiving an education in pitching on the varsity, and losing six of seven decisions for a second-year program that was headed to a 6-14 finish.

He was roughed up in a way that rarely happened while going 10-4 with a no-hitter and 1.91 ERA the previous summer for Gunther's Little Orioles.

"That year really made me a pitcher instead of a thrower," he said. "I was 14 and I had been able to get by in the summer leagues with just throwing.. . . . Since then, I've learned to to prepare mentally for a game, how to take it batter by batter, and how to take a batter inning by inning."

That summer, Wooden went 15-1 for the Little Orioles, including another no-hitter and four one-hitters. He had five saves and a 1.11 ERA, and struck out 222 in 113 innings. And he batted .488 with 74 RBIs.

"He has one of the best curveballs I've seen in this area in a long time, and he's a very coachable kid," said Rick Steirer, a Little Orioles' coach the past two summers who pitched for parts of three seasons with the California Angels.

Wooden led North County to its first winning season in 1993, tossing a no-hitter and going 4-3 with a 1.77 ERA and 84 strikeouts. He batted .347 with six doubles and six steals, and was chosen an All-Anne Arundel County third baseman.

He went 7-4 for the Little Orioles that summer, pitching a three-hitter with 10 strikeouts to beat Washington State, 5-1, and putting his team in the championship round of the Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series in Euclid, Ohio.

In the fall, he joined the Oriolelanders -- a hand-picked team run by Gilbert composed of players from the mid-Atlantic area -- and won all seven decisions.

"The summer leagues here are more of a game atmosphere than even high school," said Wooden, who ranks 45th in his class of 364 with a 3.28 GPA. "Playing a 60-70 game schedule, you learn how to go through baseball day in, day out. Between that and the Oriolelanders, when I came here to high school, it was just an easy transition."

Last year, Wooden was named second-team All-Metro after going 4-2 with a 2.05 ERA, 55 strikeouts and only eight walks. He threw a perfect game to beat Old Mill, striking out 15, and led the Knights to their first playoff berth. And he was a combined 23-4 during the summer and fall.

Perhaps his finest moment came with the Little Orioles on a return trip to Euclid for the CABA World Series. After striking out 14 in a 6-4 win over Miami, he took a 2-1, eight-inning loss to Bergen Beach (N.Y.), a national All-Star team of top Division I and pro prospects. Wooden gave up five hits and struck out 14, including 6-5, 210-pound first baseman Nate Rolison three times.

Baseball America has tabbed Rolison, of McComb High School in Mississippi, as the 15th-best player in the upcoming draft and maybe its top power hitter. Wooden also struck out catcher Ben Petrick of Hillsboro (Oregon) twice. Baseball America labels Petrick the draft's ninth-best prospect.

This spring has been one conquest after another for Wooden. The most hits he has allowed in one game are five, in a 4-2 win over No. 12 Old Mill.

"I feel that if a professional team doesn't go after Mike fairly high," Steirer said, "they're missing out on a special kid."

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