Wood's power stroke ahead of curve
Rancho Cucamonga shortstop tied for overall Minor League lead in homers
People in the player-development industry often talk about how power is often the last thing to come for a young hitter.
It's looking like Angels shortstop prospect Brandon Wood never got the memo.
Wood, the Angels' top pick in the 2003 draft and a member of the 2005 XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game U.S. Team roster, is currently tied for the overall Minor League lead with 26 home runs. Considering his previous professional high was 11, during his first full year in the Angels system in 2004, it's safe to say he's slightly ahead of the curve as a 20-year-old in the Class A Advanced California League at Rancho Cucamonga.
"He is producing power numbers we didn't expect this early," Angels farm director Tony Reagins admitted. "He's driving the ball with authority."
And he's been doing it with remarkable consistency. Wood hit nine homers in April, eight in May and nine in June while amassing a .654 slugging percentage (second in the California League) and the sixth-highest RBI total (60).
According to FutureAngels.com, Wood's power outburst draws some pretty nice comps. Dallas McPherson, now the Angels' starting third baseman, hit .308 AVG/.404 OBP/.606 SLG for a 1.010 OPS (on base+slugging) in the 77 games he played in for Rancho Cucamonga before getting promoted in 2003.
Catcher Mike Napoli, who set the Rancho home run record last year with 29, had 19 homers at the end of June in 2004. In 70 games, Napoli hit .314/.401/.609 to total a 1.010 OPS. Napoli was 22 and McPherson about to turn 23 in their respective seasons at this point of the year. Wood is at .304/.358/.654 in his 74 games with Rancho. That's a 1.019 OPS, for those of you scoring at home, and he's three years younger than his Quakes predecessors. The reasons for Wood's breakout seem to be plentiful, from better pitch recognition to playing in a comfortable hitters' league to a great offseason workout regimen.
"I haven't really sat down to think about it too much," said Wood, who also represented the California League in the Cal-Carolina League All-Star Game recently. "I'm just trying to stay at the same pace.
"I think the thing that's different this year as opposed to last year is going out there and not missing pitches. Last year, I missed some pitches I should've hit out of the park. Or maybe I'd hit them for a double last year and this year, they're getting out of the park."
Perhaps no one knows Wood better than his double play partner, Howie Kendrick. The duo are now in their third season playing together, and Kendrick has seen Wood hit the ball hard in the Pioneer and Midwest Leagues, but never like this.
"A lot of balls he gets up in the air -- if he hits them pretty hard, they'll be gone," said Kendrick, himself having an All-Star year with a .372 average. "In previous years, we've played in leagues where the ball hasn't carried as much. He makes good, solid contact."
Of course, all the cozy confines and solid contact wouldn't amount to 26 homers without a tremendous amount of good old-fashioned hard work. Aside from the growth expected from someone turning 20, Wood upped his offseason routine to get ready for the 2005 season.
"Working out at [a training facility called] Althetes' Performance in Tempe, Arizona, I put on 10-15 pounds this offseason," Wood said. "I owe a lot of credit to them.
"I came out hitting a few homers this year. Hopefully it doesn't stop, but it's a little surprising. I hit 11 last year. I was just trying to go out and hit the ball, to be honest, and I've snuck a few over the fence."
It should be noted that Wood isn't a one-dimensional player. He is hitting over .300 and he stole 21 bases last year, though that doesn't figure to be a large part of his offensive game in the future.
His improvement at the plate has been getting most of the publicity, but Wood has also made strides with the glove. Just ask the guy who stands to his left in the infield every night.
"As far as playing up the middle with him, he's a great guy," Kendrick said. "I have a feel for what he's going to do with the ball, and he has a feel for what I'm going to do. I work off of him, and he works off of me on defense."
His improvement has quieted talk that any All-Star appearances in the future will be coming as a corner, rather than a middle infielder. "I've thought about it. You hear about it all the time through different people saying they think I might move," Wood said. "I think my role right now is to play shortstop, and go out there and play it the best that I can.
"I'd like to stay at shortstop, it's where I feel most comfortable, but wherever the organization feels I can help the club the most is where I need to be. If there's a change in the future, there's going to be no disappointment. Right now, it's just playing shortstop every day. If it stays that way, that's great, if it doesn't, I'll go learn how to play something else."
The organization doesn't have any plans to make that move any time soon, obviously seeing the benefits of cultivating a shortstop with plus power and allowing a young player to develop in the most comfortable environment.
"That's the mindset," Reagins said. "Until he proves he can't play short, he's a shortstop. So far, there's been no indication of that."
So he'll head to Detroit as a shortstop. He found out about his Futures Game selection from Kendrick, and Wood couldn't think of a better way to get word of such an honor. Well, maybe if his DP partner was heading to Motown with him.
"I'm definitely excited. It's an honor to be selected for that team," Wood said. "Howie's the first person to come up to me, shake my hand and congratulate me. It was nice to come from a teammate.
"Howie's a good guy, and he has the talent to be there as well. It would've been nice to go there with him. To be honest, I don't think there's a better hitter in the Minors than Howie. The guy just goes out and hits every night."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.