After seeing Wood a few times playing third base for Double-A Altoona in the Eastern League, I did a double-take seeing him firmly planted as the starting left fielder for the Saguaros in the AFL. These are the first reps of his professional career at the position, but because of his above-average defense at third base and strong arm, there’s not much to read into the position change at this point, other than knowing that the Pirates added Connor Joe (3B, High A Bradenton, Florida State League) to the Surprise roster on 9/16, and the club already has Yoan Moncada (3B, Red Sox) taking reps at the position, and the move is to simply ensure he gets his ABs to keep developing his hit tool.
So, with the position change (Note: ‘changes’ – he’s had one start at third, three in left, and got his first pro start at first base last night), the bat is the real story of Wood’s development this year, and it’s where he’s made the most progress, with a big jump in his power numbers and better plate discipline. During the regular season, Wood led Eastern League third sackers in home runs with 16 (in 402 ABs) after hitting just two (over 334 ABs) in 2015, and added 25 XBH vs. 14 in 2015. He also worked deeper into counts, with a 52:88 BB:K rate this year. While the19% K-rate has been consistent in his last three seasons, the walk rate is trending in the right direction.
Out in Arizona, his swing did not feature much pre-swing movement, with a square stance and hands high at the ear hole and brought down into a quiet load, showing above-average bat speed with some loft through the zone, and a predominantly two-handed finish. A small leg lift timing mech is present and he has some travel in the hips that lengthens his swing some, which could make him more susceptible to off-speed stuff, but in these views he showed good barrel control and was able to cover the plate well. So while he’s yet to record an XBH, he is an impressive 9-for-21 in his first five games (.429), with two walks and six K’s.
The AFL is a small development snapshot when compared to his excellent 2016 campaign. Wood has shown enough power and above-average defense this year to get back to big league camp next spring with a bounce in his step; his new-found super-utility role in the AFL may just be to keep the bat in the lineup, but he has shown the instincts, speed, and arm to handle left field in my looks, and it will be interesting to see if they pursue a two-position strategy into 2017 to accelerate his advancement through the higher levels. He’ll probably start the year at Triple-A Indianapolis, and if he continues to improve the hit tool at the level, he could possibly see some action as a late-season call up. If the Pirates front office liked the profile after a light-hitting, two home run campaign in 2015, they’ll certainly be happy with the player they have now. He looks to be capable of becoming a Role 50 third baseman sooner rather than later.