PEORIA — When the Padres selected 6-foot-7, 240-pound prep outfielder James Wood out of the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida last year, he immediately became of the most interesting – and recognizable – picks of the AJ Preller era. Wood fell to the second round because of a brief rough patch in his senior year, but still received first-round money despite being selected in the second round.
There were some who thought he would struggle to make the transition to professional baseball. Instead, the left-handed-hitting Wood destroyed the Arizona Complex League with a .372/.465/.535 slash line in 101 plate appearances and ranks as our number five overall prospect. He still struck out at a 31.7% clip but offers a truly unique profile as an athletic slugger who can play in the center of the field.
It is a very long way from the ACL to Petco, but it’s also hard to imagine a better start to a pro career. Padres fans should expect to get a glimpse of what could be the future in Lake Elsinore just up I-15 this spring when Wood is expected to patrol center for the Storm.
We caught up with James, 19, for a brief conversation after a Spring Training intra-squad game yesterday.
You had a great year in the Arizona Complex League. What made you so successful?
James Wood: I was just going out there and having fun. It was a great environment, really just had a good time.
We were speculating that just getting done with the draft and figuring out whether you would get started professionally or go to Mississippi State had to be a weight off of your shoulders, and it may have been fun to just get back to baseball.
James Wood: Yes, for sure that was a big part of it. Just the overall stress of the draft and getting done with it was nice.
Baseball America had a report about some changes you made to your swing. Were you intentional about getting more up-and-down in your setup?
James Wood: I widened out a little bit, but there weren’t a whole lot of adjustments. It was more on the mental side of trusting that the work that I put in would pay off in the games.
In high school, you were a very good basketball player as well as in baseball. Your Dad played basketball at the University of Richmond and was a pro overseas for many years. How did you end up with baseball?
James Wood: I just loved baseball more. I’ve always really enjoyed playing it and it never seemed like work to me. Although that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to put in the work or practice to get where I want to go.
It seems like you have a part of you that kind of goes your own way. You have this basketball background, and you are good at it – but choose baseball.
You are 6-foot-7, but you aren’t playing first base or are really in the corners, but you are roaming center field. You seem to enjoy surprising people?
James Wood: [laughs] – Yeah, I get that a lot. I will see people in the elevator and they always want to know how tall I am and if I play basketball. So it’s kind of fun.
How did you get to be a left-handed hitter?
James Wood: I honestly don’t know. I want to say it’s because I loved watching Barry Bonds as a kid But honestly, I think it’s just how I ended up picking up the bat.