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Not getting good Wood

Angels' top prospect has struggled at the plate, but team will continue to be patient

May 30, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Angels fans see the immediate impact rookies such as Dustin Pedroia (Boston) and Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado) had on their clubs last season, and what Joey Votto (Cincinnati) and Evan Longoria (Tampa Bay) are having this season, and they expect something similar from Brandon Wood.

The infielder was every bit as touted as those players, having twice been named top prospect in the Angels organization and rated the third-best prospect in baseball, behind Delmon Young and Justin Upton, by Baseball America in 2006.

But 30 games and 78 at-bats into his big league career, Wood is hitting .128 with two home runs, four runs batted in, 27 strikeouts and two walks, and the hype surrounding the 23-year-old slugger seems to be turning into hope.

As in, the Angels hope he'll make the adjustments to hit in the big leagues, and they hope he'll cut down on strikeouts, and they hope he'll make more consistent contact.

And if he doesn't? Their only hope then would be that Wood not become the next George Arias, the highly touted Angels third base prospect whose big league career fizzled in 1999 after 173 games.

"Because of what he's done in the minor leagues, there's an expectation he's going to come in and perform at a high level offensively, that he'll hit a lot home runs, because he's done that in the minor leagues," Angels General Manager Tony Reagins said.

"But that learning curve is different for different players. Some make the adjustment quickly. Some take more time. Some never make it. Brandon is searching for a few things in the batter's box, but he's getting valuable experience here, understanding what it takes to play at this level on a consistent basis."

The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Wood is strong and lean, agile and athletic, and his power potential was obvious in the minor leagues, where he hit 102 home runs and 152 doubles and had 340 RBIs in 488 games from the Class-A to triple-A levels in 2004-2007.

Wood also had 520 strikeouts and 193 walks in 1,923 at-bats.

The strikeouts have continued in Anaheim, which is not unusual. Many players, even top prospects, are overmatched by their first taste of big league pitching -- remember Troy Glaus as an Angels rookie, when he hit .218 with 51 strikeouts in 165 at-bats in 1998?

But Wood has shown only brief glimpses of power and has seldom driven the ball with authority.

Entering tonight's game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Wood is batting .111 with one homer, one RBI and 15 strikeouts in 45 at-bats this season. Given six starts during an eight-game stretch in early May, he was three for 22.

Filling in for the injured Chone Figgins at third base, Wood has started six of the Angels' last seven games, going one for 19, prompting Manager Mike Scioscia and hitting coach Mickey Hatcher to work with Wood on shortening his swing.

"He's trying to get comfortable and making some adjustments on his path to the ball," Scioscia said. "His hands are in a simpler position, and I think he's taking better swings. He's going to figure it out. . . . He's got as good a head on his shoulders as I've seen on a young player."

Wood doesn't feel burdened by the "top prospect" label that has been attached to him ever since the Angels selected him from Horizon High in Scottsdale, Ariz., in the first round of the 2003 draft.

"You can be a top prospect in the minor leagues, and it doesn't necessarily mean anything here, because there are no prospects in this clubhouse, they're all proven players," Wood said. "Crossing that line from being a prospect to a proven big league player is definitely a goal of mine."

How does one achieve that goal?

"The biggest thing is consistency, not chasing those early-count changeups down in the zone, getting myself in better hitter's counts, putting myself in a better position to have more success, playing the game the right way," Wood said. "Every day, I'm learning."

The Angels have World Series aspirations, so they don't have the luxury of playing Wood for a month or two so he can establish himself in the big leagues. When Howie Kendrick and Figgins return, Wood will go back to triple-A Salt Lake.

But the next time Wood returns to Anaheim, the Angels believe he'll be more comfortable, more confident and more successful because of the experience he's getting now.

"You have to have a certain mentality, a confidence, a belief that you can perform at the level the players around you are performing at," Reagins said. "That's big. The game is a lot quicker here, so you have to make the adjustments.

"Obviously, Brandon hasn't had immediate results offensively, but players make adjustments in different time frames. Our hope is Brandon starts to figure out what his shortcomings are so he can make the adjustments and be a good major league player. We're optimistic he can."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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