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Sky Sox pitcher Brandon Woodruff ready to move on from tragic summer

April 5, 2017 Updated: April 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm
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If history is any indication, Brandon 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."

It's that mindset - along with a mid-90s fastball - that might help Woodruff buck a trend that has seen rising Brewers prospects hit a roadblock in the high altitude of Security Service Field.

Taylor Jungmann had a 3.77 ERA in Double-A before posting a 5.67 mark with the Sky Sox. Jorge Lopez arrived last year in much the same spot as Woodruff, having earned minor league pitcher of the year honors the previous year, and was so bad in Colorado Springs (1-7, 6.81 ERA) that he finished the season back in Double-A and will start this season at that level.

With a fastball that Baseball America ranks as the best in the Brewers' system, Woodruff is confident he can navigate the tough venue.

"I'm sticking with what I have," he said. "I guess my pitch arsenal can play at this level and I think it can play at the big leagues. I'm just going to stick with my strengths and see where it takes me."

Sky Sox manager Rick Sweet shares Woodruff's optimism.

"He's got an explosive fastball," Sweet said. "He commands his pitches well. He should do very, very well here."

And if he struggles, Woodruff can lean on the perspective he gained after last year's tragedy.

"Each and every time I go out I try to just go pitch-to-pitch and not worry about anything else and treat every outing like it's my last," he said, "because you honestly never really know."

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