Washington’s fans got their wish – although not under the best of circumstances.
After Derek Hill suffered a hamstring injury in the third inning while running to first base, top prospect James Wood made his much-anticipated Spring Training debut in Wednesday ‘s game against the Yankees.
This wasn’t overly surprising. Wood was bound to see the field at some point during big league camp, and he was listed on Wednesday’s lineup card as part of the Nationals’ traveling roster.
Still, the extended look Wood received offered an exciting glimpse into the future.
In an ESPN game featuring Aaron Judge in the other dugout, the Nationals had a physical specimen of their own to place under the spotlight.
From the moment he stepped into the game, Wood was a threat. He walked out to first base in Hill’s place, and ran from first to third on a single off the bat of CJ Abrams. He then scored on a ground ball hit by Alex Call.
Do you believe me now when I say Wood looks like a younger, faster Josh Bell?
Wood stayed in the game to play center field – which in itself is a story, especially with Call (who’s battling for, at worst, the backup role in center) in left. He wasn’t tested with any frequency defensively, but it was clear that he moves well in the outfield.
There was a deep fly ball to right-center that appeared to be somewhat catchable that he was unable to reach. However, there’s a strong argument that Wood simply made a Spring Training business decision to avoid a potential injury – which it’s hard to fault him for doing.
It wasn’t a flashy day for Wood at the plate, as he wound up going 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a double-play groundout – although he showed off his wheels by, to the naked eye, beating the return throw to first base. That’s something Josh Bell probably wouldn’t have done on this play.
In the words of manager Dave Martinez to the available media after the game, “He looked good. He took some good pitches, worked some good counts, and he moves well. He’s going to be really good.”
Wood – to the surprise of no one who’s been keeping up with such things – was rated Washington’s No. 1 prospect by MLB Pipeline in their updated rankings by team that was released on Monday. MLB Pipeline had already rated Wood as its No. 17 prospect in baseball, edging out outfielders Robert Hassell III and Elijah Green among the ranks of his Nationals organization-mates.
Nats Farm on Twitter provided a detailed breakdown of risers and fallers in the updated rankings.
A handful of these players have also appeared in games this spring, highlighted by Cavalli, House and De La Rosa.
Nonetheless, Wednesday’s story – and perhaps the story of the week – was James Wood. He won’t be suiting up in a regular season game at the major league level anytime soon. On this one day, however, he was up with the big boys. Well, figuratively speaking, considering he was among the biggest in physical stature on the field.