Reporting from Indianapolis — With Chone Figgins expected to finalize a four-year, $36-million contract with the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday, the Angels' third-base job appears to belong to Brandon Wood, the 2003 first-round pick who has been the organization's top position-playing prospect for several years.
Some might consider it a risky move, given the track record of a few former highly touted prospects who have had the Angels' third-base job.
George Arias, who hit 30 home runs and drove in 104 runs at double-A in 1995, beat out veteran Tim Wallach with a torrid spring in 1996; Arias hit .238 with six homers and 28 RBIs in 84 games and was traded to San Diego the following season.
The Angels let veteran slugger Troy Glaus leave as a free agent before 2005 to clear third base for power-hitting prospect Dallas McPherson, who had a combined 40 homers and 126 RBIs at double-A and triple-A in 2004. Derailed by a series of back and hip injuries, McPherson was limited to 101 games in 2005 and 2006 in which he had only 15 homers and 39 RBIs. He was released before 2007.
So, it is no surprise that for inspiration, Wood prefers to look to the other corner of the infield, to Kendry Morales, who took over at first base after Mark Teixeira left as a free agent last winter and hit .306 with 34 homers and 108 RBIs in 2009, his first full big-league season.
"I like how Kendry went into spring training last year," Wood said by phone from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "When Teix didn't re-sign with us, everybody said it was Kendry's job. But Kendry said, it's not your job until you earn it, and he worked his tail off.
"I'm going in to spring training to win a job. That keeps you on your toes. If you think that job is yours, you might get lazy. I've got to be ready to work, rather than sitting back and saying I paid my dues, I waited for my time."
The Angels are confident that Wood, who also plays shortstop and can play first base in a pinch, can handle the defensive demands of the big leagues.
Wood, who turns 25 in March, is sure-handed, with a strong arm, quick feet and good instincts, and he has played well defensively at both third and short in his limited big-league time.
The Angels also think that, as Wood improves his plate discipline and gains a better command of the strike zone, he will add a key power component to the lineup, which will be needed if Vladimir Guerrero doesn't return and the Angels are unable to land free-agent outfielder Jason Bay.
Wood, who received a $1.3-million signing bonus in 2003, hit .321 with 43 homers and 115 RBIs at Class-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2005, but had 128 strikeouts in 130 games. He hit .276 with 25 homers and 83 RBIs at double-A Arkansas in 2006, but led the league with 149 strikeouts in 118 games.
He showed improvement in 2007, hitting .272 with 23 homers and 77 RBIs and had 120 strikeouts in 111 games for triple-A Salt Lake, and in 2008, hitting .296 with 31 homers and 84 RBIs and 104 strikeouts in 103 games at Salt Lake.
But last season was even better. He hit .293 with 22 homers and 72 RBIs and had 80 strikeouts and 36 walks in 99 games at Salt Lake.
"My goal is to stay healthy and produce and not worry about hitting 30 home runs," Wood said. "It may be better if I hit 20 home runs, I walk 20 more times and I strike out 30 fewer times."
Wood has been prominently mentioned in trade rumors over the years, but now that he is out of options -- teams could claim him off waivers if the Angels try to send him back to Salt Lake -- and now that there is a vacancy, it appears Wood is here to stay.
"I've been waiting for a little while, but it will all be worth it if I can go to spring training, feel comfortable, and open the season with the Angels," Wood said. "To possibly be part of the post-season, as opposed to just watching it, makes me excited to go to work."
Wood's big league playing time has been sporadic: a .192 career average, with seven homers and 19 RBIs, in 224 at-bats over 86 games since 2007.
But he played well during a three-week stretch in which he filled in for the injured Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis late in the 2008 season, and he has been exposed to enough of the big leagues that he doesn't think he'll be fazed.
"I wouldn't say there's pressure," Wood said. "Knowing that going back to triple-A is not an option is good. To feel comfortable and to get confident, you need every-day at-bats. That's all I'm looking for. The only pressure is to play hard and win a job."