Besides baseball, Woodruff also played basketball in high school.
In 2011, Brandon was the Rangers' 5th round pick, out of Wheeler High School in Wheeler, Mississippi. But he chose to accept a baseball scholarship to Mississippi State.
June 2014: Woodruff was the Brewers 11th round choice in the draft, out of Mississippi State. And he signed with scout Scott Nichols.
The year 2016 was very tough for Brandon. He depended on his mental toughness to get through it. Late in July, Woodruff's older brother, Blake, died in an ATV accident back home in Mississippi.
Woodruff returned to Double-A Biloxi and starred in a 1-0 victory against Pensacola by pitching six shutout innings and bopping his first home run for the only run of the game.
“He came back after the funeral, and all the things that went with that, and in a very workmanlike way said, ‘Hey, I missed 10 days. I want to make my next start,’” Biloxi pitching coach Chris Hook said.
“You talk about stuff and competitiveness on the mound, but he is an incredible human being. That can’t be overlooked in all of this.”
Brandon explained how he was able to deal with the loss of his brother. “Obviously, that was a tough time,” said Woodruff. “I thought the biggest thing for me was just getting back with the team and getting in that same routine. After that happened, it makes you appreciate life a little bit more. So I just go out in each and every outing and treat it like it’s my last.”
In 2017, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Woodruff as the 7th-best prospect in the Brewers organization. They moved him up to 2nd best, behind only OF Lewis Brinson.
If history is any indication, Woodruff might have a tough time replicating his Double-A success after a promotion to Colorado Springs.
Then again, in some ways, Woodruff would never want to relive 2016.
It was last summer that Woodruff emerged as a top-level prospect in Milwaukee's system, earning Brewers' minor league pitcher of the year honors after going 14-9 with a 2.68 ERA and a minor-league leading 173 strikeouts. But it was also a tragic summer, as Woodruff lost his older brother, Blake, at 28 in a four-wheeler crash in rural Mississippi.
Blake, who was 5 years older than Brandon, had largely taught his little brother the game of baseball, allowing him to tag along to high school practice before he went on to play in junior college.
"Pitching to each other, hitting ground balls to each other and everything in between," Brandon Woodruff said. "He was definitely my biggest influence in baseball."
Woodruff took a few days away from baseball to be with his family in July. He rejoined his Double-A team on a road trip in Pensacola, Fla., and hit his first professional home run in his first game back.
"I needed to get back with the guys," Woodruff said. "Getting back in the same routine made things seem a little back to normal. After that you learn not to take baseball for granted because you just never know." (Brent Briggeman - April 5, 2017)
Oct 12, 2018: Richard Woodruff stood in the hallway outside the Brewers' clubhouse, hands buried in his pockets, overcome with emotion. His eyes swelled. He could barely speak, the weight of what he'd witnessed too much to bear. "They want me to talk about it," Woodruff said, motioning to his wife, Belinda. "But I can't stop crying."
Richard's tears were sparked by what his son, Brewers righthander Brandon Woodruff, had managed hours before. But they trace back farther into the past, before Brandon sent a Clayton Kershaw fastball 407 feet over the center-field wall, more than two years before he became the unlikely star of Milwaukee's 6-5 win over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS. The tears streamed for who wasn't there to witness it, at least in person: Brandon's older brother, Blake. "When it plays out the way it did tonight," the senior Woodruff said, "it really makes you think about certain things."
Brandon was in Double-A in 2016 when Blake died of complications from an ATV accident. The Woodruffs buried him on a Monday. With a heavy heart, Brandon returned to his team. And six days later, his family watched from home as he enjoyed the finest game of his professional career to that point, homering and earning the victory in a 1-0 win. "It all kind of played out like a movie," Brandon said, remembering that day. "And today was kind of crazy."
Woodruff couldn't have been farther from that field in Pensacola, Fla. The stakes couldn't have been higher. But the parallels, for the Woodruffs, were impossible to ignore. Not only did Woodruff's blast off Kershaw in the third inning shock the 43,615 assembled at Miller Park, he was also awarded the win after throwing two perfect innings of relief to help inch the Brewers closer to their first World Series berth in 36 years.
"Getting in the clubhouse after the outing was over, you think about it," Woodruff admitted. "You think about what [Blake] would be doing. Probably going crazy."
Everyone else was. From the stands, Richard couldn't even see his son round the bases, his view blocked by a crowd sent into a frenzy. In the bullpen, Josh Hader's jaw dropped. Brandon greeted Lorenzo Cain so amped after crossing home that Cain said, "He almost broke my arm."
"To see the ball go out of the ballpark against Clayton," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said, "obviously, that was a surprise to all of us."
For Kershaw, the start was the 344th career game, including the postseason. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner had never before had he allowed a home run to a lefthanded-hitting pitcher. Only twice had any reliever homered in a postseason game—Woodruff joins Travis Wood and Rosy Ryan in that exclusive club. Woodruff also became the first Milwaukee pitcher to homer in a postseason game since the 1958 World Series, when Lew Burdette did so against the Yankees.
Yet the Woodruffs will remember the homer in the prism of some lesser-known history, theirs. Brandon followed Blake, five years his elder, all over Tupelo, Miss., where they grew up. To practices. To games. Then Blake watched as Brandon grew into such a slugger for Wheeler High School, he batted leadoff to discourage teams from intentionally walking him. They walked him nonetheless, and Brandon earned All-State honors anyway.
Blake "was the guy I learned baseball from," Woodruff said. "He taught me how to play. I owe a lot of what I know now to him." The Rangers made Woodruff a fifth-round pick in 2011, but he went to Mississippi State instead, where he was a two-way player for the Bulldogs. The Brewers drafted him as a starter in the 11th round in 2014. Woodruff's homer for Double-A Biloxi was the first of his professional career. He's now hit two in the Majors, the other coming this July off Pirates righty Nick Kingham.
"The whole second half of that season, he was pitching for his brother, and he was just dynamite," said pitcher Brent Suter, who was with Woodruff at Double-A two summers ago. (J Trezza - MLB.com - Oct 13, 2018)
When Brandon was told he had a visitor waiting outside of the Brewers’ clubhouse in Montreal during the final days of Spring Training 2019, he failed to come up with any ideas of who he could expect.
But when he stepped out to meet his mystery visitor, he couldn’t have been happier, or more surprised, to be reunited with Oil Can Boyd, a former Expos player and childhood coach of Woodruff and his late brother, Blake.
“He coached my brother, and was with one of my brother’s summer league teams,” Woodruff said. “As a kid, obviously I knew who Oil Can was, playing in the big leagues, seeing everything about him, and he used to throw me [batting practice] because I was at almost every one of my brother’s practices. He tried to show us stuff about pitching, and I was just 10 or 12 years old.”
Boyd originally made his way to Montreal for business purposes, but when he realized that his fellow Mississippi native was taking the mound against the Blue Jays, he altered his plans to extend his stay.
“We talked about it back then, when I was little,” Woodruff said. ”We have a mutual friend in the town where I lived, and he got in contact with him when I made my debut back in ’17, and he’s kept up with me through my career. He’s known me since I was little, but it was cool getting to see him yesterday. When he saw I was pitching, he said he had to stay an extra night and watch me throw.”
As the two reminisced about the time they spent together a decade and a half ago Woodruff couldn’t help but smile when he recalled the early days of seeing his brother and Boyd play sandlot baseball.
“At the time he was playing semi-pro ball, with guys who either played in college or were out there for some fun, and some former pro guys like Oil Can,” Woodruff said. “It was sandlot baseball, and teams would meet up on Sunday evenings after church and play.
“I remember my brother playing on those teams with him, and some of the fields there would be goats tied to the fence, eating the grass and stuff, so that brought back some memories.” (Brudnicki - mlb.com - 3/26/19)
|Birth City:||Tupelo, MS|
|Draft:||Brewers #11 - 2014 - Out of Mississippi State Univ.|
Woodruff has a 92-97 mph 2-seam FASTBALL with good movement. Brandon also spins an 85-88 mph slurvy-SLIDER that gets a 60 grade on the 20-80 scout scale, and has good feel for his 84-86 mph CHANGEUP.
Brandon needs to work more on locating his changeup down in the zone. A bulldog on the mound, he pitches with confidence.
He had control issues in college but has thrown strikes as a pro. With a bulldog approach and groundball tendencies he has a floor as high-leverage reliever. Or he could be a #3 starter. (Spring, 2018)
- 2017 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 60.5% of the time; Change 12.7% of the time; and Slider 26.8% of the time.
- 2018 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball 59% of the time, his Sinker 5.5%; Change 10.6%; Slider 23.4%; and Curve 1.5% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 96 mph, Sinker 96.2, Change 85.3, Slider 87.7, and Curve 80 mph.
Brandon has a fluid delivery and nice pitcher's body. But his mechanics were a bit inconsistent. Then in 2013, Woodruff lowered his arm slot to a more natural, and comfortable arm slot.
He's become more confident in his off-speed pitches.
- 2016 Improvements:
1st half: 4.73 ERA, .233 BAA, 1.33 WHIP. 2nd half: 2.32 ERA, .201 BAA, 0.92 WHIP.
Woodruff figured things out and dominated in the second half, limiting hits and missing a lot more bats (10.5 K/9 vs. 8.1 in the first half). The turnaround enabled him to lead the league in WHIP and finish third in ERA. He benefitted greatly by increasing his tempo and rhythm, which allowed him to repeat his delivery more consistently.
In 2016, Woodruff was named the Brewers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Woodruff sharpened his command considerably (40 walks) and improved his secondary pitches, a slider and changeup.
“When he has them both and adds them to his fastball, he has a lot of weapons,” Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan said.
Aug 4, 2017: Woodruff made it to the mound in one piece. That in itself was progress. The rest of Woodruff's night was even better, a tightrope walk of a scoreless Major League debut that lasted into the seventh inning of the Brewers' 2-0 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field. The outing came 52 days and 1,000 miles from where Woodruff was supposed to do this the first time around, Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the Brewers' No. 4 prospect, per MLBPipeline.com, was poised to debut on June 13, 2017 in the first game of a doubleheader, only to strain his right hamstring during a pregame stretch.
"You know, when that happened in St. Louis I was pretty tore up about it," said Woodruff, 24. "But that was for sure worth the wait. "This is what every kid dreams of," he added, "and I'm glad it happened this way." His start against the Rays spanned 6 1/3 innings before three Brewers relievers completed Milwaukee's sixth shutout win to pull within one-half game of the National League Central-leading Cubs. Woodruff surrendered seven hits—all singles—and two walks, cramming seven of those baserunners into the first three innings but never yielding a run.
"What was so impressive to me was … the composure he handled the first two innings with," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He wasn't getting hit hard, but it took him a while to get in the rhythm of the game, and I thought he handled himself well in those tough spots." (A McCalvy - MLB.com - Aug 5, 2017)
May 2013: Woodruff had surgery to repair a cracked bone in his elbow, while at Mississippi State.
2015: Brandon missed some time with an oblique strain.
- June-July 2017: Woodruff was sidelined for about six weeks with a hamstring strain.