Time is now for Wood and other former top prospects
TEMPE, Ariz. --
"I think anybody wouldn't be telling the truth if they said they didn't lay down at night and think about when their opportunity's going to come," Wood said the other day from Angels camp. "With that being said, I understood it at the same time."
He understood it because he was a member of the Angels organization, and the Angels don't tend to give their prospects full-time big league jobs until they are more than ready. And he understood it because there was really nowhere on the big league team for a shortstop like him to play, with an infield that last season featured
As this season approaches, Wood no longer has reason for restless nights. Barring the occurrence of anything unforeseen, the starting third baseman's job should in 2010 belong to Wood, and to Wood alone. A self-assured and good-natured player who turned 25 on Tuesday, it is the first time he has ever entered camp as a projected everyday regular. Said Angels center fielder
Indeed, Wood has ridden in several rodeos before, each of which has lasted far less, metaphorically, than eight seconds, and in none of which did his form look particularly good. In his 224 total major league at-bats so far, he's hitting .192 with seven home runs and 19 RBI. There is no doubt that the tenuousness of his position, and the lack of regular playing time contributed to those numbers
Wood has never had more than the 150 at-bats he received in 2008, the last 21 of which made him ineligible for both Rookie of the Year honors and, for all practical purposes, another spot on
Wood played just 18 major league games in 2009, but the Angels' conviction that he was finally ready to be a full-time member of their major league roster was one reason they did not try harder to prevent Figgins from signing a four-year, $36 million free agent contract with the Mariners last December. It was similar to the team's approach the off-season before, when their belief in Morales led them to watch, without putting up much of a fight, as incumbent first baseman
"To have a year like Kendry had [in `09] would be just exceptional," says Wood. "It would be wonderful if it happened, but it probably won't, not quite yet."
Add his defensive skills that the Angels feel could one day soon win Wood a Gold Glove, and you have, says Reagins, someone who has "the potential to be a dominating player."
A dominating player who will never, of course, win a Rookie of the Year award, but that's of little concern to Wood. He has made it. He will no longer lie in bed at night and wonder when he'll get his chance, and he will no longer travel between Anaheim and Salt Lake City so frequently that the flight attendants start to look familiar. He will finally have his opportunity to deliver on all those years of promise.
Wood is not alone. There are several other former top prospects who in 2010 no longer qualify for rookie status, but who now appear ready to finally be given a full-time role and for whom this will be a year where they have the chance to confirm (perhaps, once and for all) whether or not we should have believed the hype.
(This might be an appropriate place to suggest that it is probably time to reexamine the standard by which baseball identifies players as "rookies." For nearly 40 years now, a rookie has been defined as a player who has never before accumulated 130 at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days on a club's active roster -- not including days spent on the disabled list, or as a September call-up -- in a season. Surely all of those numbers could be doubled, at the least, without risking that some pot-bellied graybeard would defile the sanctity of the Rookie of the Year award. Particularly in an age in which teams tarry more than ever in giving to their prospects full-time big league gigs, for reasons both developmental and financial, as clubs are increasingly wary of starting their young players' service clocks and hastening the day on which they are eligible for arbitration, and then free agency.)
These eight players are listed in alphabetical order, along with their current ages, historical rankings in
The Reds selected Bailey No. 7 overall out of Texas's LaGrange High in 2004, and since then he has been a model of inconsistency. He had a difficult 2005 in Single-A Dayton (8-4, 4.43 ERA), then a great 2006 with high-A Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga (10-6, 2.46). Then he followed a solid 2007 in Triple-A Louisville (6-3, 3.07) with a poor 2008 there (4-7, 4.77). His nascent major league career, which has spanned parts of three seasons, has been similarly hit-or-miss. He allowed five earned runs in a game three separate times during the first three weeks of last August, but was terrific in seven September and October starts, compiling a 4-1 record with a 2.08 ERA. Reds GM
Barton, the '03 first round pick whom the A's acquired along with
The Mariners picked the catcher out of USC third overall in the 2005 draft, behind
Picked behind Hochevar in the '06 draft? Everyone, including
LaPorta has less major league experience than anyone else on this list, Wood included, and, as a veteran of all of 52 games played, is a player who really should be eligible to win the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2010. Alas, he has 51 at-bats too many, as the Indians brought him up for most of May, and then, with an eye on his service clock, delayed another recall from Triple-A Columbus until the end of August. By then it was too late for him to get any sort of power rhythm going, and his numbers look somewhat disappointing, for a slugging former first round pick who was the prize in the July 08 trade that sent
Maybin, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2005 draft, was the Marlins' Opening Day starter in center field last year and was supposed to lock the job down, but he was clearly overmatched. He was hitting .202 when the club sent him to Triple-A New Orleans on May 10, where he watched as a less-touted Marlins rookie,
Snider is even younger than Maybin -- he just turned 22 on Feb. 2 -- but Toronto undoubtedly hoped for more from their 2006 first round pick on the big league level than he gave them last year. He hit just .241 in a season in which he was sent down to Las Vegas from late May to mid-August (where he destroyed Triple-A pitching, batting .337 with 14 home runs and 40 RBI, with a 1.094 OPS in 48 games). Now he's the Jays' full-time right fielder, although if he struggles new GM