No. 2 prospect Wood putting 6-foot-6 frame to use

Martinez on youngster's natural ability: 'For a big guy, he can run'

February 26th, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Six-foot-six James Wood has a way of making running look like gliding. The smooth steps blend into a blur of athleticism as he dashes on the basepaths and in the outfield with agility and speed.

The 21-year-old, ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 14 prospect and the Nationals’ No. 2, is bursting with natural ability. But much like the work he has been putting in at his first Major League Spring Training, he began doing the same on his running nearly 10 years ago.

“It’s helped a lot,” Wood said prior to going 1-for-1 with an RBI single and a walk in the Nationals’ 6-3 loss to the Mets. “Speed’s a big part of baseball, so I think it's added another tool.”

Wood estimates he was around 6-foot-3 as a freshman in high school. That year, he began working with his height, rather than against it, as an aspiring outfielder at IMG Academy.

“I've had a lot of good strength coaches who helped me out mechanically because, especially when I was growing, I was a little bit out of control,” Wood said. “I think they kind of tightened up all those movements. It’s not like I've really been focusing on it, but it's always been a part of my workouts.”

The drills are just as much mental as they are physical. A step or two has many elements to it, which become easier to put into motion with repetition. Wood provided a snapshot of that work on Sunday against the Marlins when he ran from home plate to first base on a groundout in only 4.07 seconds. Entering Monday, he held the fastest speed on that route among all players in Spring Training.

“Say you're doing like a regular buildup, your first few steps you’re just focusing on pushing into the ground as hard as you can,” Wood said of his approach. “Then as you start gradually leaning up, then it becomes more like you're on a bike than like a push.”

Wood’s two home runs in his first two Grapefruit League games only tell a piece of the story of the talents he has showcased in Florida. Following last season, in which the slugger recorded 62 extra-base hits -- including 28 doubles and eight triples -- and stole 18 bases between High-A and Double-A, the Nats have been impressed by what they have seen in daily workouts, too.

“I watched him do his outfield drills,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We shoot the machines [with] the same balls that I’ve seen guys taking three or four steps. In two steps, he’s almost getting to the ball. It’s just different. Plus, he’s so much bigger than everybody else. But for a big guy, he can run.”

Of all the players Martinez has played with or against or managed, Wood’s running abilities most remind him most of 6-foot-6 Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.

“It’s unique, very unique,” Martinez said.

When it comes to watching how other pro athletes use their size and speed, Wood grew up a fan of LeBron James. Wood looks to how the NBA star, who is listed at 6-foot-9, 250 pounds, maneuvers on the basketball court in his 21st season at age 39.

“It’s got to be a lot of wear and tear on you,” Wood said. “He’s still playing at a high level, so he's obviously doing something that no one else is doing as far as taking care of his body and all that and knowing his body, too. That’s really only one of the things that makes him who he is.”

Wood is already displaying what makes him who he is, even before playing a game above Double-A. The question will be how his path to the Majors compares to his speed.

“No,” Wood said with a smile, asked whether he realized how fast he was running. “I just get up and go.”