If you chose the best ST players, James Wood would be on the Opening Day roster

“Best” is a subjective word unless you define it on factual data. For instance, the best player could be judged on a minimum of 40 plate appearances coupled with the highest OPS, and your best player would be James Wood based strictly on that criteria.

Some would say that evaluating the best players is subjective since Spring Training stats have never been an accurate predictor of regular season performance. In ST of 2023, Alex Call slashed .321 /.403 /.464 in 56 at-bats with a .867 OPS, and in the regular season was a Mendoza hitter at .200 with a .614 OPS for the Washington Nationals. In mid-August, Call was benched. This Spring Training, he is batting a gaudy .406 and raising eyebrows again. Chances are, Call won’t make the Opening Day roster. Baseball is cruel, no doubt. Some would say, “Fool me once, shame on you — fool me twice, shame on me.” You don’t get many second chances in baseball.

As of today, Wood is batting .325 with a 1.085 OPS. If you chose your outfield based on ST OPS for the Nats with at least 15 plate appearances, your starters would be Robert Hassell III, Call, and Wood in that order. The quality of competition and the sample sizes create an evaluator’s nightmare. Also, Hassell has been injured with a groin strain. Maybe replace him with Lane Thomas who was the Nats’ best outfielder last year over a full season.

There is almost no question that Wood is a future star. He has been comp’d to be the left-handed version of Aaron Judge. At comparable ages, Wood is well ahead of where Judge was at 21 years old. Judge did not even make his MLB debut until he was 24, and he struggled so much that the skeptics were calling him a bust with his .179 batting average and .608 OPS. He K’d in exactly half of those at-bats, 42-of-84. The following year Judge won the Rookie of the Year — and the MVP five years after that.

Most evaluators think that Wood is a better athlete than Judge with similar power potential. Everything is based on potential until you actually do it. A player has to achieve it in the games that count. Nobody is handing out MVP awards to the best performers in Spring Training — and maybe not even a spot on the Opening Day roster.

James Wood, in my opinion, he’s big league ready for sure. Just the way he handles himself every day, and the way his at-bats are, it just looks so easy. The way he can hit anything at any moment, no matter what count it is, and be able to drive a ball 450 feet, it’s unbelievable. Pretty cool to see. He’s a special player, and I’m glad he’s on my team.”

— top prospect Dylan Crews said two weeks ago on the Grant & Danny Radio Show on 106.7

Nats’ teammates, Crews and Wood, have been the top ranked duo of prospects on any team. They finished up last year together at Double-A Harrisburg and have been together as non-roster invitees to big league camp in Spring Training. Crews thinks that Wood is big league ready now.

Expect Wood to make his MLB debut in 2024 — it just probably won’t be on Opening Day. But we don’t know what to expect. Some of the greatest players in baseball history have struggled in their debut season like Judge and Mike Trout. You hope you have a Juan Soto-esque start to your MLB career. Many would sayIn Mike Rizzo We Trust. The Nats’ general manager has been good at choosing the right time for MLB debuts for his projected superstars.

“Nobody ever blocks a great player.”

“When players are ready to get to — and impact the big league club, they’ll get here, and they’ll be in there every day.”

— — Rizzo said about Wood on the Grant & Danny Radio Show on 106.7

Rizzo is right that you will find a spot for a great player. The Nats had that issue with Trea Turner. Shortstop was occupied which led to the team placing Turner at center field. During his callups in 2016, his manager at the time, Dusty Baker, was not playing Turner. The general manager put Turner on the roster, and the manager wasn’t playing him.

Maybe the last laugh was with Turner that he turned into a superstar player and signed a $300 million contract in free agency. Rizzo was right on finding a position for Turner. Nobody should block a great player. It certainly could have turned into a scene from the movie Moneyball where GM Billy Beane was upset that his manager Art Howe wasn’t playing Scott Hatteberg at first base (enough) so he traded Carlos Pena on July 5, 2002.

“Right now, Trea has to fit in where he get in. Right now, there’s no real place for Trea to take. This isn’t a try-out camp. This is try to play the best team overall to win the game and win the pennant. Hopefully, Trea will be a part of that while he’s here.”

— Baker said in 2016

The Nats seem like they are being proactive to create enough future positional depth for players like they did by moving Brady House to third base in the minors, and now it looks like Yohandy Morales will be moved to first base as his primary position. Nobody is blocking Wood or Crews.

When a top prospect is called up to the Majors, it is so they can play every day as a position player. That will be the plan, and the projected Opening Day outfield looks set with a combination of Jesse Winker, Eddie Rosario, Lane Thomas and either Victor Robles or Jacob Young in center field. An injury or a deadline trade would open a spot for Wood. When or if that happens, who knows. Turner got two separate callups in 2016. One due to an opening for a paternity leave, and then again for a spot after an injury, and then Turner settled into center field after Michael A. Taylor was optioned to Triple-A.

Who knows what will happen that could open up a roster spot. Turner’s first callup was when Ryan Zimmerman went on the paternity listed followed by a Zimmerman injury a month later. Zim was the team’s first baseman. And no, Turner was not going to play first base, that injury just created a roster spot for him, and Taylor’s subsequent demotion weeks later created a permanent spot for him in that season. The following season Danny Espinosa was gone via a trade, and that created the chance for Turner to go to his natural position of shortstop, and he never look back.

So yes, Turner had a circuitous route to be the team’s shortstop. Rizzo knows how to create spots for great players. Wood might not play center field, maybe he will play left field. Again, who knows at this point. New baseball chapters are written all of the time. The Padres are going through this with Jackson Merrill, and for now he is doing what Turner did and will play center field with shortstop occupied.

Rizzo will make good on his mantra that “nobody ever blocks a great player.”

With Wood as one of the stand-outs early in Spring Training, MLB selected three players to wear custom cleats as a gift in the SPRING BREAKOUT games. Wood was one of the top prospects who was selected and paired with artist Chandler Powers. They collaborated to have his New Balance cleats painted with DMV, the US Capitol building and Washington Monument, and his Maryland area code of 301 painted on the cleats in Nats’ navy blue with patriotic stars.

“Starting around the age of 13, I’ve always had a passion for graphic art and design but was never really an artist. My mother would always go to the store and grab me some paints and drive me to different sporting events. As a football player, I thought it was always cool to see different cleats on the playing surface.”

“That’s when I used my love for graphic art and football and put it all together. It has been something I’ve loved ever since, and I am now 20 doing things that I would have never imagined me doing while still pursuing my college degree as I am set to graduate as a sophomore at the end of this winter semester.”

— Powers told us about how he got into painting shoes and cleats for athletes

Wood is generally very understated with his equipment, so this cleat design fit him well where there were no neon colors or loud design elements. Powers told us that he spent about five hours working on the cleats in the paint process. He was doing two pairs for other players and on a tight deadline as Paul Skenes and Max Clark were the other two players. Here is the video of the reveals.

New Balance is worn by Shohei Ohtani and Francisco Lindor, and both appear in advertising for New Balance. Hopefully one day Wood will have a signature cleat.

“We hope James continues to grow as a player with the Nationals and develops into one of the best players in Major League Baseball.  We love having him as part of the team at New Balance since he signed with us out of high school.”

“We would love to see him reach his full potential and, possibly someday, be talked about as that type of ambassador for our brand.  We look forward to watching his development.”

Neil Brooks, Head of Global Baseball Sports Marketing for New Balance told us

So besides New Balance cleats, Wood swings axe handle bats from Victus and in particular that natural handle with a painted barrel measures up at a large 34.5/32.5 i13. He wears Franklin batting gloves, Evoshield shin/foot armour, and this year, his custom Rawlings outfielder’s glove is sized 12¾ Heart of the Hide, with a timberglase shell back, palm, and with a Pro H web.

Maybe most importantly, Wood’s favorite pizza is a Maryland classic, Ledo Pizza. The pizza is kind of like Wood, he never cuts corners.

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