James Wood, now or later?

In one game yesterday, James Wood matched Eddie Rosario‘s hit total for the season, and then Wood beat his home run total in his final at-bat before the rains cut Thursday’s game short in the 8th inning. Wood was a triple shy of a cycle yesterday as he faced Toronto’s No. 1 prospect in lefty Ricky Tiedemann who is also the top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball.

The cycle is known as a quirky feat because Wood’s results yesterday were much better than hitting a home run, triple, double, and a single in one game. Wood cranked two home runs, a double, and a single while stealing a base, and turning in a defensive Web Gem. He put all 5-tools on display. All Wood had to do in that final home run was not touch home, and he would have had his cycle, technically, and probably would have been benched for doing something so idiotic. Fortunately Wood knows what’s what and touched homeplate and celebrated in the dugout with his teammates.

“I’d prefer the two homers over the cycle.”

— Wood said in a postgame interview to Brendan Samson

Wood, 21, finished this year’s MLB Spring Training at the top of the offensive stats, in his 22-games with a mind-blowing 1.214 OPS. Wood bested Mookie Betts by 196 points. There is no Spring Training MVP crown — but the prize is supposed to be you made the big league team. That was not the case with Wood. Baseball is a business, and the Nats were going with veteran players to start the season. All of the talk about forcing your way onto the roster by kicking down doors didn’t happen.

There is no grievance that Wood could file to force a promotion — just ask Kris Bryant. The CBA is clear how it works. The MLBPA got concessions to curtail service time manipulation in the last agreement that has certainly helped. You get promoted when Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo decides to do it. Nobody but Rizzo probably knows when that will be. The PPI deadline passed last night with all players called up by yesterday would qualify for their team and themselves to receive the benefits of coming in first or second place in Rookie of the Year voting in their league.

If it was my choice, Wood would have made my Opening Day roster. I believe in you motivate by showing all players that consistently producing gets recognized. That is a culture unfortunately few if any teams subscribe to. Roster manipulation is seen everywhere, and the Orioles go burned on it with Adley Rutschman just two years ago, so this past year they put Gunnar Henderson on the roster on Opening Day and scored on that, and they beat the PPI deadline by promoting top prospect Jackson Holliday on Wednesday.

The Nats promoted Bryce Harper and Juan Soto as teenagers quickly, and it cost the team millions in arbitration salaries and early free agency. Soto got paid $8.5 million as a Super-Two player before he reached three full years, and that number became exponential. With Harper, some estimates is that it cost the Nats an extra $15 to $20 million by promoting him as a Super-Two player. Even before the new PPI rules, the Nats had been one of the most aggressive teams in promoting players. The difference is that this isn’t a team with high expectations of making a postseason bid.

The gamble is that if Wood is called up before the end of August and finishes first or second in the ROY voting, the Nats will only have five years of team-control moving forward, with Wood eligible for free agency after the 2029 season at the age of 27. You can almost see the writing on the wall — unless the Washington Nationals offered Wood a long-term deal now like the Brewers did with rookie Jackson Chourio. He signed an 8 year, $82MM contract with a pair of club options at $25 million each that could take the deal all the way to 10 years. The maximum total value of the contract is $142.5MM with bonuses. That should be a standard for the Nats — if only I was the owner and GM, like Jerry Jones of the Cowboys.

By the way, per a team source who spoke to me under a condition of anonymity, the team has not approached Wood (or the Boras Agency) on a long-term deal. But hey, no matter what the team does, they will control Wood’s services at least through the 2029 season.

“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 during Spring Training

Today, Wood is batting .441 with a 1.352 OPS to start his stint in Triple-A Rochester. He has been en fuego with much improved contact mechanics, and a better plan at the plate. Or at least if he doesn’t have a plan that works to start with, he is smart enough to consult a coach or veteran player like he did yesterday when Wood K’d in a four-pitch at-bat against Tiedemann, he consulted with teammate Jake Alu.

There is a cerebral side to Wood that almost takes him beyond his years. Not bashful to ask a teammate for some insight, he saw how Alu, who made his MLB debut last year with the Nats, handled Tiedemann in his first AB of the game.

“I was feeling kind of lost off Tiedemann,” Wood told Samson. “So I asked [Alu] what he was looking for, and I was able to take that with me up to the plate [in my next at-bat].”

“He told me, ‘Just gear up for the heater and when you’re looking for 96 [mph], you’ll see the slider.’ I think I was kind of in-between in my first at-bat. I fouled off a heater, and I was really late, then I chased a couple sliders. This kind of got me locked in on one pitch, and I was able to identify the slider as something different out of the hand.”

— Wood said as he hit a home run off of Tiedemann on a slider in that key lefty/lefty matchup

This is the maturity of a young player that also shows that he is coachable. Sometimes players will fall into information overload, but Wood was smart enough to ask the right person for some help. Too many top prospects, especially a Top-15 prospect, would never ask a player ranked so far below them for help. But Alu, who is also a lefty, is a smart kid himself and kind enough to help.

On an MLB roster, it happens more often that a player will ask a teammate, “Hey, what did you see?” But in the minor leagues, your teammates are also your competitors in that they want to get to the show, or in Alu’s case, get back to the big leagues in a situation that you are competing with your teammates. The dynamic is real. A source once told me that shortstop Danny Espinosa gave Trea Turner the cold shoulder when Turner was a rookie and wouldn’t help him at all. That might sound like some high school drama — but the competition exists. Good on Alu for helping Wood out there.

Yes, Wood got a little taste of flying on the Nats’ team chartered American Airlines jet, and eating in a big league buffet that certainly beats bus rides and eating at Chipotle. The only way to get there and stay there is by performing.

While MLB Pipeline‘s Jonathan Mayo thinks Wood will be up just after the July trade deadline, Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline thinks if you wait that long, you might as well wait a few weeks more and keep him eligible for the 2025 PPI. That’s if you wait that long. You can wait for May or June or even August 2nd like Mayo predicted, and still risk Wood ranking in the first two spots of the ROY. That will keep Rizzo from sleeping at night.

If you look at the Vegas lines, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is still the NL ROY favorite with Chourio next, and then followed by Shoto Imanaga After that Top-3, you have Jung Ho Lee, former-Wood teammate Jackson Merrill, Michael Busch, Jared Jones, Kyle Harrison, Paul Skenes, and Masyn Winn. If Skenes is on that list and still in the minors, how come Wood isn’t in there?

As one person said, the Nats aren’t going to the postseason this year, so what’s the rush? That is probably a wait-and-see on that although as bad as the Nats’ starting pitching looks overall, could the team get close if they rolled out Wood and top prospect Dylan Crews? That is the other side to this and how the Cincinnati Reds handled it last year when they promoted top prospects when they thought they had a chance of making a run for the playoffs. Some would say that is the prudent approach. Others want that instant gratification and a call for the flavor of the day. Well, so far, Wood has been the flavor of the month for sure, and you could say two months.

From “Hope Row”, you turn the corner, and you are at manager Dave Martinez‘s Bumpy Road that leads to beautiful places. If you don’t get that reference, study up on your 2019 World Series history. Wood, Crews, and Brady House will be playing as MLB players soon enough. To see them at the Future’s Game in Nats Park on March 26, was a glimpse into the future. Enjoy the ride.

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