Wood's turn at third has finally arrived
Longtime backup ready to compete for full-time job with Halos
Patience is an essential virtue, in life and at home plate. Brandon Wood could do a lecture tour on the subject.
Having paid his dues in full for seven years, growing and evolving through the process, the Angels' third baseman feels he's ready to join the club as a full-time, full-service member in good standing.
"It's something I've waited a long time for, having a chance to come in and win a job," Wood said, the path to steady work having finally cleared with Chone Figgins taking his multiple talents to Seattle as a free agent.
Manager Mike Scioscia has pulled Wood aside the past few years to let him know he was in the club's master plans.
"Sosh said, `You're going to play in the big leagues a long time -- it's just not your time yet,'" Wood, who turns 25 on March 2, said by phone from his Scottsdale, Ariz., home.
"My goal in years past was to make the team. Running out of [Minor League] options takes some of the pressure off, knowing I'll have an opportunity to play in the big leagues.
"I want to play every day. I haven't had a chance to do that. That's my goal and will continue to be my goal. To get consistent at-bats is what I've been looking for, and I want to take advantage of this opportunity."
Wood was the Angels' first-round choice, No. 23 overall, in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale.
Since his mammoth breakout season in 2005 at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga, where the 20-year-old shortstop led the California League in homers (43), doubles (51), RBIs (115), runs (109) and slugging (.672), Wood has been a familiar name on the annual lists of blue-chip prospects.
He continued to put up impressive numbers at Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Salt Lake along the way, but his star dimmed somewhat as the road to Anaheim was blocked by more experienced athletes.
The left side of the Angels' infield the past few years has been occupied by Figgins, Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis, leaving few opportunities for Wood to show what he can do.
His only stretch of consistent playing time came during the final month of the 2008 season with Aybar and Izturis both sidelined. Wood handled shortstop capably while batting .256 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 86 second-half at-bats.
Izturis is in the wings at all three infield positions, a proven safety net. But it's clear Wood will be given his shot, at last.
"He has to have the mindset to come in there and win a position, and realistically that's what has to happen," Scioscia said. "He has to come out and win a spot, and we do have some depth that we'll use if it's going to make us a better team.
"But we definitely want to give Brandon every opportunity to show his talent. He's a very, very talented young player."
With improved plate discipline and pitch recognition, Wood has shaved his strikeout ratio the past two seasons while continuing to bang away at Pacific Coast League pitching. He hit .293 with .557 slugging and .353 on-base percentages in 2009.
Reduced to occasional cameos, Wood batted only .195 with the Angels in 41 at-bats. But the Angels were 9-1 in his starts at third, shortstop and first base.
"I had a short time there where I had some success," Wood said, referring to the final month of '08. "It gave me a feel for what it's like, walking into the clubhouse knowing I was going to be in the lineup. I was going to play shortstop, and I didn't have to worry about not playing for 10 or 12 days.
"I didn't have that opportunity last year. If you look at our lineup, at the way Chone and Aybar played, there was no room for me. I'm not the kind of hitter who can play once every week or two weeks and be successful."
Figgins delivered a career year playing 158 games, while Aybar dazzled with the glove and led the club with his .312 batting average in 137 games.
"What Aybar did in his first full season was amazing -- and I think he's only going to get better," Wood said. "As for Chone, I had a chance to see how great he is. It's kind of bittersweet, getting this opportunity but not having him around as a teammate."
Figgins was several lockers down from Wood in the home clubhouse the past two springs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Seated to Brandon's immediate left is Torii Hunter, the Angels' driving force.
"I've learned a lot in big league camp, being around these guys," Wood said. "Physically, I'm in good shape, ready to go. I've done my usual workouts at Athletes' Performance [in Tempe], where I've been for 10 years, and I've been taking ground balls and throwing at our Minor League facility with [Angels infielder] Freddy Sandoval.
"Some guys can get out of bed and hit in November. For me, it's a process, getting my swing right in the offseason, taking it into the spring and then into the season."
An adjustment Wood made in his stance early in the 2008 season, on the advice of Scioscia and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher, has paid dividends.
By dropping his hands and eliminating a hitch he'd used as a timing mechanism, Wood gradually found he had a clearer path to the ball -- without losing any of his prodigious power to the alleys.
"It made it easier for me to get to the outside pitch, and I could still turn on the inside pitch," Wood said.
At Salt Lake in the second half of the '08 season, Wood put it all together, hitting .361 with 17 homers in 147 at-bats. His slugging (.755) and on-base (.448) percentages were off the charts.
Angels second baseman Howard Kendrick began his professional career alongside Wood in 2003 and is convinced his buddy will rise to the challenge.
"I've been around Brandon long enough to know he has the drive and work ethic to succeed," Kendrick said. "He's a laid-back guy, but he loves to compete and is willing to do whatever it takes.
"He's waited a long time. I mean, he spent three years at Triple-A. It was different for Aybar and myself. We got our opportunities quicker. I think Brandon's ready to prove he belongs in there this year.
"He's always hit for power, and that's what a lot of teams look for at third base. Figgy is a great third baseman and was a great leadoff man for us. Wood's the type of guy who can provide that power -- and he's definitely got the glove and arm you need."
Wood made the most of one of his four starts at third at Yankee Stadium on May 2. Facing CC Sabathia, Wood struck out to leave the bases loaded in his first at-bat, but made adjustments and singled in his next two trips. His opposite-field bullet started a decisive four-run rally leading off the seventh.
"I was fresh coming off Triple-A and really excited to be playing in Yankee Stadium, facing CC Sabathia," Wood said. "It would have been memorable if I'd gone 0-for-3 with two K's, but getting a couple of hits and helping us win ... that was huge."
This was a rare moment of reflection for Wood, who has been kept busy by his workouts and another kind of preparation.
On Dec. 4 in Scottsdale, Lindsey Stratton will join him at the altar. They've known each other since February 2006.
"We're doing all the planning now," said Wood, who attended teammate Jason Bulger's wedding this winter. "I just got back from my workout, and now I'm working on our flower arrangements."
The future Mrs. Wood hails from the San Francisco area and knows all about pressure-cookers. She has trained as a firefighter for CAL FIRE in Grass Valley, Calif.
In the months preceding their big day, Lindsey will be pulling for Brandon to start and stoke his share of fires with his bat.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.