Wood shows remarkable progress in first week as Nats' left fielder

July 9th, 2024

WASHINGTON -- Left field is relatively new to .

The No. 2 prospect in MLB played the majority of his Minor League career in center field, where he has logged 1,442 innings. Wood got acclimated with left this season at Triple-A Rochester to address a position of need on the Nationals. He played 164 innings (22 starts) there with the Red Wings before his big league promotion on July 1.

In Wood’s eighth consecutive day as the Nationals' starting left fielder, he showcased his growing familiarity with the position.

“He played better today,” manager Dave Martinez said following the Nats’ 6-0 loss to the Cardinals on Monday at Nationals Park. “We talked before the game. He’s got to get himself in the position to catch everything, just like he was in center field. He did a way better job today.”

During the second inning, lefty-hitting Brendan Donovan connected on a fastball from southpaw Mitchell Parker. The liner traveled a Statcast-projected 258 feet into left field at a 25-degree launch angle and a 3.4-second hang time.

“I knew it was going to slice a little bit, so I just kind of had to make a quick read and try to be quick to it,” Wood said. “Obviously, I had to slide for it.”

The 6-foot-7 Wood ran forward 57 feet, outstretched his left glove hand, dove forward and landed on the ground with the ball secured for the second out. With a 65 percent catch probability, it was the lowest probability of any catch Wood has made, but he was confident in his ability to complete the play.

“I just felt like I could beat the ball there,” Wood said. “ ... I decided just to go for it at that point. I was already there.”

The dive exemplified Wood’s rapid growth in the big leagues. In his second game on July 2, Pete Alonso hit a line drive off DJ Herz that traveled a projected 279 feet to left field. With a 95 percent catch probability and only a 38 percent hit probability, the ball dropped in front of Wood for a single.

“It’s just kind of getting used to any other field,” Wood said that day. “Obviously, it’s a little bit of a different read. That’s just a tough read – it’s like a top-spin line drive, it just kind of froze me for a little bit.”

And just one week later …

“I’m just trying not to hesitate out there,” Wood said on Monday. “I’m just trying to get a good jump and just go for it.”

Right fielder Lane Thomas, who has played all three outfield positions, can appreciate the rookie's learning curve.

“I think it shows a little confidence that you can go get the ball like that,” said Thomas. “Sometimes it’s hard, you get a little hesitant early on, you don’t want to make mistakes, but he seems to be taking all that well.”

With the same long stride that Wood shows when he glides around the basepaths, he is learning to navigate left field. In the seventh inning, Wood covered a career-best 112 feet on a flyout into foul territory off the bat of Michael Siani. It was his first putout that required triple-digit distance coverage.

“You don’t really realize how fast he’s running until he goes first to third, and he covers a lot of ground,” Martinez said. “And he does the same thing in the outfield. Once he gets going, he’s covering a lot of ground. There were some balls that he caught down the left field line where I thought he wouldn’t get to them, and he’s just standing there underneath the baseball. So he’ll get it. He’ll get it. He’s a good athlete, I know that. I’m not disappointed in anything he’s done so far. He’s really done really well.”

Wood, a Maryland native, played his first eight Major League games at Nationals Park in front of the home crowd – and hometown crowd. He will experience his first opposing ballpark on Tuesday when the Nationals open a road series against the Mets at Citi Field. The Nats plan for first-base coach Gerardo Parra to spend extra time with Wood pregame to get acclimated with the new vantage point.

“He’s done really well in the short period of time,” said Martinez. “It’s only a matter of time before he really gets comfortable in left field and you could see the benefits of having him out there.”