Wood moving to third base
Position change could help the organization's top power prospect get to the majors faster.
By Mike DiGiovanna, Times Staff Writer
11:08 AM PST, February 21, 2007
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Speculation turned to reality Wednesday when the Angels began working shortstop Brandon Wood, the organization's best position-playing and power prospect, at third base, a move that could hasten the 22-year-old's arrival in the big leagues and eventually provide a jolt to the Angels lineup.
"This is really for our benefit and Brandon's benefit," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "If it works out and he can play third, to have that kind of bat coming up and having a position for him could help us.
"We're not giving up on him as a shortstop, and I think that's important; we're very comfortable with his ability there. But right now, as you get up that funnel and get to the big leagues, a lot of times you have to become versatile to get to where you want to be. It's something we're going to look at."
For years, media members, scouts, fans and some Angels executives have looked at Wood's size (6 feet 3, 190 pounds) and power (43 home runs, 51 doubles at Class A in 2005; 25 homers, 42 doubles at double-A in 2006), and the organization's shortstop depth, and projected Wood as a third baseman.
Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera has two years left on his four-year, $32-million contract, utility infielder Maicer Izturis is a solid shortstop, third baseman Chone Figgins came up as a shortstop, and many believe slick-fielding and speedy triple-A shortstop Erick Aybar is ready for the big leagues now.
Third base has been something of a black hole since the Angels let Troy Glaus walk as a free agent after 2004. Major lower-back and hip injuries have all but eliminated heir apparent Dallas McPherson from the picture. Izturis and Figgins, who spent much of 2005 and 2006 at third, have struggled at times defensively, and the Angels were unable to land top free-agent target Aramis Ramirez this winter.
Figgins will open this season as the team's everyday third baseman, but if Wood shows in exhibition games this spring that he can handle the position, he will probably open 2007 as a third baseman at triple-A, or at least split time between third and short. If he excels at Salt Lake, he would be a candidate for a promotion.
"I'm very open to it," said Wood, whose third-base experience is limited to a few games in rookie ball. "The ball comes at you at a different angle, and the game comes at you a lot quicker, but whatever the call is, wherever they need me, I'm open to it."
Defensive growth at third won't be the only requirement for Wood, the team's first-round pick (23rd overall) in 2003, to reach the major leagues. As prolific a power prospect as Wood is, his strikeout numbers are just as prodigious.
Wood struck out 149 times and walked 54 times in 453 at-bats for double-A Arkansas last season. He struck out 128 times and walked 48 times in 536 at-bats for Class-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2005.
"I know it's something I've had to work on since I signed," Wood said. "I know I need to cut down on my strikeouts and increase my walks, and I've thought about it a lot this off-season.
"For me, it's a matter of maturing as a hitter. Most of my strikeouts have come from not swinging at strikes. I've put myself in too many 0-2 counts. That puts me in a bad position. It's a matter of recognizing bad pitches early and not swinging at them."
Scioscia said Wood's strikeout totals are a function of pitch selection.
"There are a lot of reasons why guys strike out — sometimes they're expanding the zone a little bit and pitchers can exploit that, even at the lower levels. Sometimes guys just have a hole they can't get to. I think with experience, you're going to see the strikeouts drop and the walks continue to rise.
"There are a lot of guys who had a problem in that regard. Mike Schmidt and Matt Williams are two terrific examples at third base of guys who struggled early and figured it out. One's a Hall of Famer, and one had a terrific career. That part of it, I think we're confident Brandon will keep moving in the right direction.
"He has terrific bat speed. As he sees more pitches and starts to recognize his zones and what he needs to do, his stats will reflect that in a positive manner."
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Wood will start stealing at bats very soon.