For a west coast kid, Michael Woodworth’s stay in the northeast has been a little longer than he expected when he transferred to UConn from Sierra College in Rocklin, California.
After helping propel the Huskies to two NCAA regional finals appearances, Woodworth could have been forgiven if he thought his stay in the cold weather was over when he was picked by the Oakland Athletics in the 29th round of the 2019 MLB Draft. But here he is, just over a month later, digging into the batters’ box against the Connecticut Tigers for a three-game series in Dodd Stadium, barely 20 miles from J.O. Christian Field.
Although he was on the away team, he still got plenty of cheers from the crowd.
“I had no idea it was gonna happen. When I went down to Arizona with the draft guys I just assumed I would stay down there for the whole rookie season,” Woodworth said. “But when I got called up it was pretty exciting.”
Woodworth started in the Arizona League, tearing up the unpredictable, inconsistent pitching at that level. He hit .276 in 38 plate appearances and posted a whopping .655 slugging percentage, which earned him the call to the Vermont Lake Monsters in the New York-Penn League with catcher Kyle McCann and two other rookies.
“It was a lot of young guys throwing a lot of straight fastballs, a little wild,” Woodworth said. “I think in one game I had like four walks, so guys started throwing it right down the middle and the ball flies pretty well, so you just have to barrel the ball to get extra bases.”
But after his call-up, Woodworth struggled a bit in the Single-A New York-Penn league. Through nine games, Woodworth is hitting just .130, but there’s a normal adjustment period for moving up a league so early in your rookie-ball career.
And lo and behold, Woodworth’s past week has represented somewhat of a surge for the UConn graduate; he’s gone 3-for-9 over his past three games, getting on base five times in his last 12 plate appearances.
In the game itself, Woodworth went 1-for-4 with a couple of hard-hit balls and a double, a pop out to deep right that the outfielder couldn’t locate in the twilight.
Joining Woodworth in Dodd Stadium on Friday night was an old foe of his, former ECU slugger Bryant Packard. Drafted by Detroit in the fifth round, Packard was assigned directly to the Connecticut Tigers, where he’s had a quality season so far, hitting .313/.410/.344 through 32 at-bats.
“When we played in Vermont early in the season I talked to [Packard] after the series, then on the basepath today,” Woodworth said. “He’s a big-league talent and he’s ready, so he’ll be called up sooner or later.”
On hand to see Woodworth’s return to Connecticut this weekend was former Husky teammate Mason Feole and his family, along with countless other UConn fans.
Woodworth’s stay in the New York-Penn League figures to be much longer than his stint in Arizona, as he figures how to hit consistently at that level, at least through the end of the summer. But as long as he keeps applying what’s he’s learned at each level, he’ll give himself a chance to move up.
“There’s a lot of different styles of baseball, and you’ve just gotta take parts of it and learn from it,” Woodworth said. “Keep hitting the ball hard and keep getting on base and keep doing all the small things and eventually someone will take notice and you’ll move on up.”