Get to know Nationals top prospect James Wood

May 27th, 2024

has vaulted up prospect rankings since the moment he was selected in the second round of the 2021 Draft. He certainly made himself familiar with baseball fans earlier this year when he slugged four home runs in Spring Training.

The 6-foot-7 outfielder is knocking on the door of the Majors and could be yet another young stud the Nationals are slowly starting to incorporate at the MLB level. With his size, power and production in the Minors, Wood could end up being one of the most-feared power hitters in the foreseeable future.

Here’s everything you need to know about Wood as we await his arrival in the Majors.

The following statistics are through May 26.

FAST FACTS
Position: OF
Ht/Wt: 6-foot-7, 234 lbs.
B/T: Left/Right
DOB: Sept. 17, 2002
High school: IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)
Born: Rockville, MD
Prospect rank: Nationals No. 1 / MLB No. 5

Part of one of the most notable trades in baseball history

The first Juan Soto blockbuster trade that went down in August 2022 could end up going down as one of the most fascinating trades in MLB history.

Given Soto’s stature and club control at the time of the trade, there’s no doubt that the move was going to be discussed for years to come. Not even two years later, however, the trade is looking like a win-win for both sides -- maybe leaning toward the Nationals in the long haul.

For two years and a few months of Soto, the Nationals received a haul of six players: CJ Abrams, MacKenzie Gore, Wood, Robert Hassell III, Jarlin Susana and Luke Voit. Abrams and Gore are already integral pieces at the MLB level, Wood should join them shortly and Hassell (MLB Pipeline's No. 8 Nationals prospect) and Susana (No. 10) are solid prospects in the system.

Soto helped the Padres reach the NLCS in 2022 and was superb last season (157 OPS+) before he was traded yet again to the Yankees -- a move that netted San Diego a plethora of pitchers, including Michael King. While the Nats don’t have someone quite at Soto’s level, the trio of Abrams, Wood and Gore could be building blocks for years to come.

Elite pop

Wood’s main calling card is the ridiculous raw power that he’s been able to translate into games. Pipeline gives it a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale (his top-rated tool) and Wood has parlayed that into game action with a career .538 SLG and 50 home runs in the Minors.

We’ve seen Wood’s power and all-around offensive excellence with Triple-A Rochester this season, where he’s hit an absurd .355/.465/.596 with nine homers in 45 games. Luckily, Triple-A has publicly available Statcast data for the first time this season and it supports Wood’s outrageous production.

Through May 26, Wood boasted a 94.2 mph average exit velocity (MLB average is 88.9 mph this year), a 56.9 percent hard-hit rate (39.4 percent MLB average) and a 10 percent barrel rate (7.8 percent MLB average). This isn’t entirely surprising, but it further supports Wood’s potential as an elite power hitter.

Not just a power threat

As you can see, Wood’s power could carry him to stardom. But that’s far from his only impressive skill.

On the offensive side of things, Wood has consistently hit around .300 at most Minor League stops along with an OBP near .400. Wood likely won’t hit .300 in the Majors due to his high strikeout rate (career 26.4 percent) -- although that rate has dropped below 20 percent this year -- but the plate discipline is real. Wood has drawn walks at a 13.6 percent clip in the Minors.

He’ll also provide value on the bases and in the field. He’s already reached double-digit stolen bases this year and has more career stolen bases than home runs. That speed and athleticism carry over to the field, where he could realistically stick in center field, unless Dylan Crews (MLB No. 7 prospect, Nats’ No. 2 prospect) wins that battle. Even if he’s in a corner-outfield spot, Wood is going to be a plus there.

"Wood uses that same [big] frame to glide comfortably on the basepaths and in the outfield, and many teammates and others come away surprised at how effortless he makes plus speed look," says Pipeline's report on Wood.

Lofty standards, lofty height

At 6-foot-7, Wood already finds himself in rare territory for a position player.

Since 1901, there are only four players with a listed height of 6-foot-7 with more than 50 career home runs: Frank Howard (382), Richie Sexson (306), Aaron Judge (274 active HR) and Tony Clark (251). Just looking at 2024 alone, Judge and Oneil Cruz are the only players that tall to homer.

While it’s a bit more common for taller pitchers -- Randy Johnson is one of the 23 pitchers this tall to record more than 50 career wins -- Wood finds himself in a unique size bracket. While it’s never a given to project MLB success for prospects, Wood has a good chance to become one of the best position players ever at his size.

Hails from a baseball (and sports) powerhouse

Wood was selected 62nd overall in the 2021 Draft by the Padres out of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. A preparatory boarding school founded in 1978, the IMG Academy is one of the top sports destinations for high school athletes in the country and also trains professional and collegiate athletes.

The school is known for its all-around excellence in sports -- and baseball is no exception. Among many major achievements, IMG Academy’s baseball team had an undefeated 25-0 season in 2023 and secured the program’s first MaxPreps National Championship.

IMG Academy’s program has also seen a whopping 51 players play professional baseball, including seven players reaching the Majors -- such as former two-time All-Star reliever Chris Perez and current D-backs infielder Blaze Alexander. Wood is just the latest prospect out of an academy that has seen 21 players get drafted since 2015.

Hoops are in his DNA

Wood -- who was born roughly 20 miles north of Washington, D.C., in Rockville, Md. -- spent his freshman and sophomore years at St. John's College High School in the nation's capital, where he was a standout basketball player and legitimate prospect.

"It never really felt like a tough decision. I always felt like I loved baseball more," Wood recently said on MLB Network's Off Base. "I just feel like the difference was in baseball, whenever I was practicing, it never really felt like a practice to me. I always enjoyed the work aspect of baseball."

Wood’s size and basketball prowess, in part, stems from his family. His father, Kenny, was a star at the University of Richmond from 1989-93, where he scored 1,427 points and grabbed 717 rebounds. Kenny is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame and he helped the team reach two NCAA Tournaments before he played professionally in Europe and South America.

It’s not just Wood’s father, either. Wood’s sister, Sydney, played for Northwestern University from 2018-23, where she scored 840 points and was a captain for the team. Wood’s uncle, Howard, also played basketball for four years with the University of Tennessee before being drafted by the Utah Jazz and playing one season in the NBA.