Black MiLB Players #23: James Wood
A centerpiece of the package sent to Washington from San Diego in the Juan Soto trade, James Wood is a 6'7'’ centerfielder with an uncommon combination of contact ability, raw power, sound defensive skills, and athleticism.
James Wood is a 20-year-old outfielder in the Washington Nationals organization from Olney, Maryland. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 2nd round(62nd overall) of the 2021 MLB Draft out of IMG Academy in South Florida. The son of a former college basketball standout and professional basketball player in Europe, Wood was a two-way star in basketball and baseball until he decided to focus on the latter during his second year of high school.
During his senior year of high school, his stock dropped due to issues making contact at the plate versus top-tier competition, something that worried a lot of scouts due to his large frame. The San Diego Padres drafted him in the second round of the 2021 MLB Draft despite these issues, giving him a $2.6 million dollar signing bonus as he forewent his commitment to Mississippi State’s baseball program.
His professional career started during the 2021 MiLB season with 25 games in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League, where he went .372/.465/.535 with 10 stolen bases, five doubles, and three home runs. Amongst all hitters in the Floria and Arizona Complex Leagues to accumulate at least 100 plate appearances, Wood was first in batting average, second in on-base percentage, ninth in OPS, and tied for third in wRC+.
For the 2022 MiLB season, he played 71 games at the Low-A level, accumulating 329 total plate appearances(PAs). He slashed .313/.420/.536 with 12 home runs, 27 doubles, and 20 stolen bases. He also started 64 of 76 games in centerfield, showing an ability to man the position full-time. Out of 231 players to log at least 250 plate appearances in Low-A, he ranked fifth in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging. He put up a .989 OPS for the season with a 14.3% walk rate, 20.7% strikeout rate, and a .446 wOBA.
He was also a part of the trade that sent Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals to the San Diego Padres, finishing the 2022 season with the team that is only an hour away from where he grew up.
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James Wood is a 6'7'’, 240 pound centerfielder that bats left-handed and throws right-handed. He has a long and slender frame with a tapered midsection. There is still a lot of room on his frame for growth. Depending on how much muscle he adds and how he fills out it may impact his athleticism/placement on the defensive spectrum.
He stands upright in the left-handed batter’s box with a slightly open stance, keeping his hands parallel to his collarbone and the bat tapping his shoulder. He starts with a slight leg lift while loading his hands into position before starting a simple and quiet, flat swing. He shows an ability consistently make contact due to elite bat speed, above-average hand-eye coordination, and uncommon timing ability/anticipation. He keeps his bat in the zone for a long time as well.
Wood’s approach at the plate and understanding of the strike zone is advanced, showing an ability to draw walks at a high rate so far in his career. Posting averages well above .300 throughout his career so far, the outfielder has made a case for having a legitimate feel to make contact. He shows an advanced feel for hitting, frequently making contact to all fields from well out in front of the plate.
He stays inside of the baseball despite his long arms, understanding that focusing on contact and letting his easy raw power do all the work is what works best. Wood has elite raw power, being able to hit a baseball beyond 110 miles per hour at the age of 20. He accrues extra-base hits at a high rate despite hitting ground balls at a rate of over 40%.
Wood is very athletic for someone his size, being able to play centerfield full-time and can run the bases very well. He stole 20 bases on 25 attempts in only 76 games, which is very impressive. In center field, he runs solid routes and makes average jumps to pair with his above-average foot speed and long strides.
James Wood has begun his career performing on a fast track as he’ll only be 20.5 years old at the beginning of the 2023 MiLB season and most likely will start in High-A. With one of the highest ceilings in all of Minor League Baseball to pair with a unique profile, his development in the upper minors will be interesting to watch. So far, he has flashed the abilities of that Dave Parker, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton-esque giant outfielder that can play defense, get on base, and hit a lot of bombs.