Brandon Wood’s last stand

Brandon Woodphoto © 2009 Scott Catron | more info (via: Wylio)

Before the 2006 season, Brandon Wood was Baseball America’s third highest ranked prospect in all of baseball, just behind Justin Upton and well ahead of names like Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder, Ryan Zimmerman and Hanely Ramirez.

Ooops.

Ranking prospects is a very inexact science (Delmon Young was ranked first and Jeremy Hermida was ranked fourth), but you have to be doing some big things to earn such a high ranking. Wood was not only producing on the field (.321/.383/.672, 43 home runs at high-A), but many scouts believed he would continue to get even better. The quote posted on Baseball America’s 2006 rankings read,

“He’s still going to get better. He looks like the next Cal Ripken to me.”
–San Jose manager Lenn Sakata

Is there any better way to hype a prospect than to compare him to Cal Ripken Jr.?

Wood followed up his monstrous 2005 season with a good, not great, .276/.355/.552, 25 home run season at double-A Arkansas. However, a big red flag was his 33 percent strikeout rate.

The regression led some to wonder if Wood’s 2006 was simply a product of playing almost all of his games in the super hitter-friendly California League. We would soon find out, as Wood entered 2007 season playing for triple-A Salt Lake, part of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. There, at age 22, he went on to hit a mere .272/.338/.497 with 23 home runs in 488 plate appearances. Those Cal Ripken Jr. comparisons were a bit less frequent.

Wood spent the next three years repeating triple-A while getting very sporadic at-bats with the Angels.

So far in his major league career, Wood has hit .168/.197/.259 with 11 home runs in 494 plate appearances and has struck out in 33 percent of his major league at-bats. Again, his at-bats were sporadic at best, so he was never given a real shot to find consistency or find any sort of confidence.

Out of minor league options, the Angels finally gave up on Wood, even though they never really gave him an extended big-league look to begin with.

The Pirates, in constant rebuilding mode, claimed Wood, hoping a fresh start will help him regain some of his top prospect swagger.

“Will he play? Yes,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He’s going to play. He’s going to get at-bats.”

Read more: Pirates claim Angels infielder – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/s_733598.html#ixzz1KNSiwgDr

At-bats might be what Wood needs to find his swing. But then again, aside from one amazing season at high-A, Wood hasn’t really shown any resemblance of a star-level hitter.

If there is any good news for fantasy GM’s, it’s that Wood will likely see plenty of playing time at shortstop and gain eligibility there in all formats. For NL-only leagues, that fact alone will be particularly intriguing. 12-team mixed leagues don’t need to pounce right away, but his power potential is worth keeping an eye on.

As I’ve watched Wood over the past few years, I’ve thought frequently that he seemed “lost” at the plate. “Lost” meaning over-matched at times, but more than anything, lacking any iota of confidence.

Sometimes a change of scenery can do wonders for a busted prospect, but it didn’t work for Lastings Milledge and it didn’t work for the last Pirates shortstop revival project, Bobby Crosby.

My optimistic view of Wood is a .250/.320/.450 shortstop that can hit around 20 home runs per year. Realistically, however, I see him as a California League aided one-year wonder who lacks any sort of plate discipline, strikes out too much and doesn’t have enough raw power to out-homer those faults.

If Brandon Wood fails in his last stand, he might go down as one of the game’s biggest prospect busts. But that would be less his fault than the fault of those who were blinded to tout him so highly based on a single league-inflated season.