St. Laurence pitcher swings big bat

St. Laurence pitcher Kyle Wood is hitting .580 with eight doubles, three triples and nine home runs. Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

BURBANK, Ill. -- St. Laurence junior Kyle Wood realizes that in the box score it may appear as if Mount Carmel pitcher John Kravetz struggled against him.

Wood didn't see it that way. He homered twice and drove in four runs against Kravetz in the Vikings' 7-6 win over Mount Carmel on Saturday, but had only positive things to say about Kravetz afterward.

Few pitchers have made Wood work for his hits this season, and Kravetz did just that on back-to-back plate appearances, working to a 3-2 count both times.

The problem was, Kravetz ultimately gave Wood something to hit, and each time Wood made him pay for it. Wood, a lefty, belted the first homer over the right-field fence and sent the second the other direction.

Kravetz shouldn't feel too bad, though. Wood, the ESPNChicago.com Prep Athlete of the Week, has done the same to nearly every pitcher he's faced this season. Through 20 games, he's hit .580 with eight doubles, three triples, nine home runs, 28 runs and 35 RBIs.

"Even as a freshman, he was one of the more talented hitters in the area," said St. Laurence coach Pete Lotus, whose team is 19-1. "Now, he's taking it to another level. He has an ability to hit both sides of the plate. A lot of guys struggle at it. Teams can't throw him away. He hits the ball away really well. If they try to throw him in, he does the same. He's a tough guy to get out."

Wood was one of St. Laurence's top hitters as a freshman and sophomore, but he wasn't nearly this good. Like all hitters, he had his ups and downs during those seasons.

This season, to his surprise, he has yet to experience any sort of slump.

"If you told me I'd be doing this in February, I wouldn't believe you," Wood said. "My consistency, that's been the most shocking thing. I haven't had the ups and downs. Everybody has had them this year, and I've been able to stay away from it."

Wood believes the reason for that is a small adjustment he made at the plate this season. Instead of varying where he stood in the batter's box against different pitchers, he now only places himself in the back of box.

The change has given him an extra moment to recognize pitches, and it's made a difference. He also credits his success to being more mature. He doesn't get frustrated as easily as he once did.

It also doesn't hurt that his confidence is soaring with each swing of his 33-inch, 30-ounce Easton Stealth Speed bat.

"I don't think anybody can beat me," said Wood, who is nicknamed Simba due to his resemblance to The Lion King character. "I can only beat myself, and that's only when I get away from my approach."

The scary thing is while Wood is having an astronomical season hitting, he is thought to be a better pitching prospect. This season, he's 4-0 with a 2.59 ERA and has struck out 30 hitters in 27 innings.

"Hitting-wise, he's always been very good," Lotus said. "Pitching-wise, he went from a kid who always threw hard, but struggled to find the strike zone, to now where he can throw three pitches for strikes. He throws a fastball pretty hard, and his changeup and curve are really tough."

The Prep Baseball Report, Illinois' most respected high school baseball publication, is high on Wood as well. He's ranked No. 14 in the state's Class of 2011.

"He's a very good two-way player," Prep Baseball Report publisher Sean Duncan said. "I've seen him up to 88 [mph] on the mound from the left side and has a solid curveball. He competes. At the plate, he has good power. [He] has been hitting in the middle of their lineup since his freshman year."

Many colleges showed interest in Wood as just a pitcher. Kentucky and Michigan recruited him just for that. Wood did consider giving up hitting and choosing one of those schools, but decided otherwise.

In the end, Purdue won out as it promised to give him a chance to hit and pitch.

"I just have a lot of fun hitting," Wood said. "There's no difference to me. I love them both. I'll do both for a long time if I can."

So where will he end up in the future?

"I think he could do both at the next level," Lotus said. "I think Kyle can do some tremendous things hitting-wise. But he's lefty and throws the ball hard. A lot of people look at him as a pitcher. He's also one of the best hitters I've ever seen."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at preps@espnchicago.com.