Some guys are just different.
Baseball players, for as scrupulous as we dissect them, aren’t too dissimilar. They’re gritty and superstitious. They can be loud and loquacious. Hell, most of them all look the same too, coming in around 6-foot-1, weighing close to 190 pounds, maybe a hair less.
That’s not James Wood.
Sometimes guys leave a bigger fingerprint on a box score than their stat line.
At 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, Wood is quite possibly the most imposing figure in the 2021 MLB Draft talent pool. He’s barely 18 and already doing things on the diamond other guys simply aren’t capable of. He’s also one of the kindest, most soft-spoken premier athletes you’ll ever come across.
An outfielder, Wood is a product of IMG Academy and the Dirtbags Skrap Pak travel team, two of the more premier programs in their respective arenas. The Olney, Maryland prep is your prototypical middle-of-the-order slugger, and it feels as though he’s barely scratching the surface of what he may be capable of as he grows older and continues to mature on the field.
The fact is, high school position players of Wood’s size and talent simply don’t grow on trees. In fact, the only high school position player drafted in the first round at 6-foot-6 or taller in the last 20 years? That would be outfielder John Mayberry Jr. out of Rockhurst HS in 2002. Ironically, the 28th selection by the Seattle Mariners. He did not end up signing with the team.
Mayberry Jr. would ultimately go on to become the 19th overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers.
Wood is certainly cut from a different cloth, but in so many ways. He’s a throw back, a sight for sore eyes yearning for baseball of yesteryear. He steps into the box without batting gloves. On occasion he’ll whip out the stirrups. There are no sweatbands, armbands or jewelry. No dazzle or frills. Wood is a ballplayer and it emanates in everything he does on the field.
Wood has a physically imposing build. Besides the height, he’s long-levered with a high waist. He’s got plenty of present strength with room to add plenty more. It’s a strong, sturdy frame with super-broad, high shoulders. Indeed, Wood could add 15 pounds of muscle and not lose an ounce of athleticism.
But the biggest question surrounding a body like that will be how he handles and controls it on the field. Controlling one’s balance and rhythm at that size with those levers, frankly, is why a lot of hitters fail to produce after high school. The mechanics of the swing at that size become increasingly difficult to repeat. It was the biggest knock on Aaron Judge when he was drafted out of Fresno State in 2013. Sure, he’s big and powerful and can impact a baseball... but can someone that size handle velocity and advanced breaking stuff?
Judge proved doubters wrong.
Wood will likely battle a similar narrative as we approach the 2021 MLB Draft, though he’s got characteristics about his game that lead me to believe he’ll be just fine. He’s plenty athletic for his size, and he body projects really well.
Let’s dive in.
TOOLS (Future Value)
Update: it’s been a difficult start to the spring for Wood. He’s expanding the zone and striking out more than he did in 2020. Something to watch.
Wood is a left-handed hitter with incredible hands. His ability to cover the entire strike zone is unmatched. His quick wrists and barrel control is among the best in this class.
Wood’s approach at the plate is quiet and understated. He begins with an upright posture with low hands and a narrow, slightly open stance. Wood rests the bat on his back shoulder, calmly awaiting the pitcher’s delivery. There’s no tension in his setup -- calm and collected.
There’s a little bat waggle before dropping his hands into a firing position and throwing them through the zone. The entire operation is easy and loose and understated. The impact, however is violent. Wood possesses excellent hand speed and accompanying bat speed. It’s a super linear approach to hitting, allowing him to play with the entire field, foul pole to foul pole.
Wood has performed at every step on the summer circuit too. He mashed pitching at the PG High School Showdown in March. He was arguably the best hitter at East Coast Pro this year too, going 7 for 11 with three extra-base hits including a home run. Then he’d beat up pitching at the Ultimate Baseball Championship in July. All this, after batting .472 his sophomore year at Perfect Game events.
Wood has been exposed in a few cases against righties who throw a good slider at a lefty’s back foot. That’s one of the risks/liabilities for tall players with long levers. It’s tough to get down and cover that slot.
So long as Wood continues to learn and adjust at each level, he should be fine. His physical tools, barrel control and quick hands are really impressive and all signs point to a seriously accomplished hitter at the big league level.
As one could probably surmise, Wood is a big power threat in the box. His hand speed and barrel speed, matched with the size make for loud contact. Wood also creates a ton of loft and leverage in his swing thanks to his size and long arms. He gets extended consistently out in front of the plate and has flashed prodigious pull-side power.
There are times, thanks to his hand strength, he gets to pitches guys just genuinely aren’t supposed to. The pitch above was at his eyes and he hit it 411 feet. Truly, shades of Vladimir Guerrero, sans gloves and all.
The film is impressive enough, but the data backs up the results. Wood clocked a 74mph barrel speed at the Perfect Game All-American Classic this year. That’s already comfortably an average to above average bat speed at the big league level. He’s only going to get stronger.
CapHitting.com did a study in February 2019 that correlates bat speed and terminal exit velocities of baseballs. According to their research, Wood is already capable of producing EVs of 109mph with a wood bat. Should the bat speed approach 80mph as a pro (Judge touches 84mph), Wood should be producing exit velos in the 115 range. Tantalizing, indeed.
Wood is one of the few preps who presents plus raw power and is already tapping into a large portion of that tool. Given his frame, strength, bat speed and hand speed, you could make the argument Wood will grow into double-plus, 70-grade raw power. How much of that works its way into game power through approach and applicable hit tool would be the only question.
Gareth Morgan, the Mariners 2nd round pick in 2014, had similar bat speed and raw power. Because his hit never exceed 30- or even 20-grade, he was never able to show off his impact potential. The hit tool is just as important to the power as the power itself. This is not to scare you. Morgan’s hit tool was always in question. Wood’s is not.
Wood is currently a centerfielder and he has no intention of moving out of the middle of the field. That said, given his size and projection, he’ll almost certainly be moving into right field.
Wood is a long-strider with good instincts. He glides to the ball and certainly doesn’t appear to carry his weight as one might assume his body would. He provides plenty of range in any outfield spot. He’s shown over multiple showcase events he provides a reliable glove.
Should he stick in centerfield, given his size and expectation for added mass, Wood would probably be fringy, maybe even a tick lower. That said, should he shift over to right field, his range and athleticism really play up. His arm is definitely an asset, though his operation and mechanics with the crow hop and charging a ball can still be a little disjointed. There’s room for improvement in that category, but the talent and athleticism is there to develop.
As it stands, we’re probably talking about a fringy centerfield, but a solid average right fielder at the next level.
As it stands, Wood is firmly an above average runner. His 60 times and breaks out of the box are really, really impressive. That said, he’ll be adding weight and mass and the point has to be made that it’s a big body. You have to assume the run tool will take a step back as he ages.
Still, there’s worse starting point than having a guy that’s 230 pounds running 6.5 60s.
As previously mentioned, Wood is a really long-strider and covers a lot of ground really quickly. That does leave open the door he never loses a step after all. Still, conventional wisdom and body projection suggest what’s to come.
For comparison, Judge is an average runner. He’s in the 47th percentile of all big leaguers on the base paths. That’s not a bad outcome whatsoever.
Wood can really drive the ball back into the infield, and that’s fairly pronounced with his 92 mph throws from the outfield at showcases.
It’s a long, full, fluid arm action that has a complete range of motion. His throws have tons of carry, though they have had a tendency to tail up the baseline on throws home.
As previously mentioned, there’s some inefficiencies in his lower half mechanics, and once those are shored up, it should be a valuable asset at any outfield role.
It’s impossible not to look at the successes Aaron Judge has had in pro ball when evaluating James Wood. That said, Wood is an entirely separate player with different tools and different qualities. His hands are among the best in the class at the plate, and they compliment his enticing power very well. He may not be the quickest mover up an organization’s farm system, but the upside is so insanely immense, he shouldn’t be rushed anyways. Wood has every bit the potential of a perennial all-star, and should be a popular name floated in the first round come next July.