Wood brings power, potential into first Nats camp

February 19th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- For those who are getting to know James Wood’s game since he was acquired by the Nationals from the Padres last August in the Juan Soto megatrade, fellow top prospect Robert Hassell III offered a vivid description.

“He’s going to be great to watch,” Hassell said. “If you like seeing balls hit 120 miles an hour off the bat all the time, then that’s your guy.”

Wood -- a 6-foot-7, 240-pound outfielder from Rockville, Md. -- is one of the headlining prospects in Nationals Minor League camp this spring. Ranked as baseball’s No. 17 overall prospect (and the No. 5 overall outfielder) by MLB Pipeline, Wood’s size, power and agility combine for intriguing and promising potential at only 20 years old. His projected Major League debut is the 2025 season.

“I’m pretty good at staying in the present in general,” Wood said. “I think a lot of people can get caught up in the future, but I think I kind of realized that I don’t really have the privilege to worry about any of that until I get there. So [I’ve] got to keep working and all that, just keep grinding and hopefully get there pretty soon. ...

“I’m not really too worried about what people are saying on the outside,” Wood said of his recognition. “I’m just worried about helping my team and just working on myself, getting better and just helping the team win the future.”

Wood was a second-round pick of the Padres in the 2021 MLB Draft. He was playing for San Diego’s Single-A affiliate when he was traded to Washington in the blockbuster deal, and he finished the season on the same level with Fredericksburg. Wood slashed 293/.366/.463 with eight doubles, two homers, 10 walks, 17 RBIs and 14 runs scored in his 21 games with the Fred Nats, earning the Nationals' co-Minor League Hitter of the Year award.

“I think one thing I liked was my plate discipline; I think I could continue to improve on that,” Wood said. “But I think the main thing is, I’ve just got to stay on the fastball because the higher I go up to, it's going to be less and less pitches to hit. So I’ve just got to make sure I'm ready for that mistake and I'm able to do something with it.”

Wood is among a trio of center fielders – along with Hassell and high school teammate Elijah Green – that gives the Nationals immense depth at the position as they are building for their future. Wood has been running through drills in center in Minor League camp, but he noted he played right field in high school and during travel ball, making him comfortable throughout the outfield.

“I’ve got no issue playing wherever,” he said. “As long as I’m out there helping the team win, I don’t care if it’s center, right, left, it doesn’t matter to me.”

Wood attributes his defensive agility to his athletic background, which included playing basketball until halfway through his junior year. A center and power forward, his footwork to slide on defense translates to the field.

“I watch Wood run, and it doesn’t look like he’s running and he’s covering the gap just about as good as anybody we’ve got,” said manager Dave Martinez. “That’s pretty impressive – the kid is 6-foot-7 and can run like that.”

Wood is anticipated to take significant strides in his development this season, reaching new heights like he did this winter when he went to the Skydeck at Willis Tower -- a glass-floored viewing platform that sits a nerve-wracking 103 stories above the ground -- while visiting his sister in Chicago.

“That was pretty fun,” he said. “It was a little scary, it took a little for me to step on there, but it was pretty cool.”