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.
In 2014, Woodruff got drafted by the Brewers (see Transactions below).
In 2017, Baseball America rated Woodruff as the 7th-best prospect in the Brewers organization. In 2018, they moved him up to second best, behind only OF Lewis Brinson.
The year 2016 was very tough for Brandon. He depended on his mental toughness to get through it. 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.”
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 that 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; Brandon lost his older brother, Blake, at age 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 in his first game back, he hit his first professional home run.
"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 2018 (NL Playoffs): 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," Richard Woodruff said, motioning to his wife, Belinda. "But I can't stop crying."
Richard's tears were sparked by what his son, Brandon, had managed hours before. But they trace back to two years before Brandon sent a Clayton Kershaw fastball feet over the center-field wall and 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—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."
In 2016, Brandon was in Double-A when Blake died of complications from an ATV accident. After the funeral, Brandon returned to his team with a heavy heart. 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."
The parallels were impossible to ignore. Not only did Brandon'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."
For Kershaw, the start was the 344th career game, including the postseason. And he 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 Brandon grow into such a slugger for Wheeler High School that 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." 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 before. (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 2017, 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 - 3/26/2019)
July 6, 2019: Woodruff is joining Milwaukee’s contingent of All-Stars. The 26-year-old was named a replacement on the National League pitching staff in place of teammate Josh Hader, who was revealed to be battling back soreness of late.
Nickname: WOODY. Woodruff’s buddy Brent Suter actually looks a touch like Woody, a character in the Toy Story franchise of films. But Woodruff is called this not because of resemblance but because of baseball’s century-old habit of calling everyone a shortened version of their last name with a “Y” tacked on the end.
“We actually went and saw the 'Toy Story 4' movie—my wife and I with him and his wife,” Davies said recently, “and he had to take a picture with the big Woody cutout, which was perfect.”
2019 Season: Woodruff had a rough April, giving up 18 earned runs in 31 innings and finished the month with a 5.17 ERA. On the bright side, he did end April with three wins and only one loss. Starting in May, Woodruff really started to find his groove. From May 1st through most of July, he had 10 quality starts. This included three double digit strikeout performances, and by July 4 Woodruff had an ERA of 3.67.
On July 6, Woodruff was added to the National League All-Star team in place of Josh Hader and had a league leading 10 wins. After a three inning, four earned run performance on July 21 Woodruff was placed on the IL and stayed there for all of August and about two weeks of September.
Fortunately for the Brewers, he returned just in time to help the team grab a Wild Card spot. In two appearances in September, he pitched four innings of no-run, seven-strikeout baseball.
In the Wild Card game, Woodruff bettered Nationals ace Max Scherzer by pitching four innings of one-run baseball. Woodruff displayed his ace potential in front of a national audience. Unfortunately, the game didn’t turn out like the team and fans had hoped but Woodruff was the bright spot in an otherwise disappointing game. (John Schnabl - Fansided - Oct. 29, 2019)
Aug 31-Sept 3, 2020: Brandon was on the paternity list. Kyler Alise Woodruff was born at 11:07 p.m. on Aug 31, weighing 7 pounds. His wife, Jonie, and daughter are doing "great."
July 2021: Woodruff was chosen for the All-Star Game.
Brewers aces build brotherhood in Milwaukee
“I don’t know if you want us to say we don’t like each other? That’s not it,” said Brandon Woodruff, standing beside Corbin Burnes as they break into laughter during Spring Training.
There’s no reading between the lines of this longtime relationship; Burnes and Woodruff do like each other, and they respect each other even more. The Brewers’ co-aces have been together since Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2017, the year Woodruff broke into the big leagues as a Brewers reliever, followed by Burnes a year later. Since then, they’ve both started Opening Day, both won the club’s annual pitcher of the year award, both started Game 1 of a postseason series and both made multiple All-Star teams.
They’ve also both finished in the Top 5 of NL Cy Young Award balloting, but only Burnes won the honor (in 2021). For some duos, that might be enough of a wedge to start a rivalry. Not this duo.
“They're great because they're really competitive. And that competitiveness, with a guy next to you, it helps. It pushes you to new places,” Brewers manager *Craig Counsell *said. “But I've been around people who are definitely more motivated by other people around them; that’s not really Brandon and Corbin's thing, you know? Not compared to a couple duos that I've been around.”
It should come as no shock at all that when Burnes was asked what he’s grown to respect most about Woodruff, it starts with Woodruff’s process between starts. Process is paramount to Burnes, who remade every part of his game between his struggles in the middle of 2019 to his re-emergence in 2020 as an ace, including a new level of mental focus about everything that leads to the moment he steps on a mound.
“What you want from guys on your team is knowing they put the work in, so when they go out there, they’re giving their best effort to help the team win,” Burnes said. “Woody does that. Freddy [Peralta] does that. All the guys we’ve had together for a long time, we have that trust to know that between starts, we’re going to get our work done.”
Watching Burnes work over the years, Woodruff has picked up some things for his own process.
“I’ve asked Corbin about his routine, his in-between pitch stuff, how to lock back in, how to essentially reset yourself to focus on the next pitch,” Woodruff said. “The in-between starts stuff, that’s the time to really sit down and watch each other.”
They learn as much from the dominant outings – Burnes’ combined no-hitter in Cleveland stands out, or Woodruff’s 10-strikeout, eight-inning scoreless gem in St. Louis when the Brewers were hunting a postseason berth in 2020 – as from the clunkers. When Burnes is dissatisfied with a start, Woodruff has noticed that he buries his head in his notebook. Burnes meticulously grades his execution percentage from each game in that notebook and jots down ideas for the next time he faces a team.
Every time Woodruff sees Burnes really attuned to those pages, “you know he’s going to punch out 10 or 12 the next time out.” (Adam McCalvy - April 11, 2023)
June 2014: Woodruff was the Brewers 11th round choice in the draft, out of Mississippi State University. And he signed with scout Scott Nichols.
Jan 15, 2021: Woodruff and the Brewers avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year contract for $3.2 million.
- Jan 13, 2023: Brandon again avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal with the Brewers worth $10.8 million.