"The light that burns twice as bright burns for half as long," Dr. Tyrell tells his psychotic robo-creation near the end of Blade Runner, "and you have burned so very, very brightly." The psychotic robo-creation says thanks a lot dad, and bashes Tyrell's face in. Of all the lights in this list of former top prospects, one has burned the brightest and, by all indications, for the shortest duration. Did we create a monster in Brandon Wood? Friday the Thirteenth edition!
The preceding four parts are here, here, here and here.
Brandon Wood (3B)
Where He Was
The Angels selected Richard Wood out of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Arizona with their twenty-third pick in the 2003 draft. The pre-draft scouting report on him read: "Large, lean frame. Wiry strong. Short stroke with plus bat speed. Projectable raw power. Plus instincts. Soft hands. Can pick it. Projectable body and bat." Probably traumatized by years of juvenile taunting, he began to identify with his middle name, Brandon. The Angels liked his power potential, but he seemed more certain with the glove than the stick. His debut in rookie ball was encouraging if unexciting: .288 / .348 / .471 in 267 plate appearances. In 2004 he stumbled in the tough offensive context at Cedar Rapids, hitting a very mediocre .251 / .322 / .404 with 11 home runs in 125 games. Still, scouts liked his future at short, and he made #83 on Baseball America's prospect list after 2004. Then 2005 happened. I'll just let the press explain it for themselves.
What They Said
Tremendous breakout season at age 20. While you can't expect 101 extra-base hits per season, I think his improvement was mostly genuine. #1 organizational prospect, Grade: A -- John Sickels
"He's still going to get better. He looks like the next Cal Ripken to me." #3 prospect overall -- Baseball America (quoting a minor league manager)
Well, the power is legit, as if 57 homers between the Minors and the AFL wasn't enough proof for you. If he can cut down on the strikeouts just a little bit more, it could get even worse for opposing pitchers. #3 prospect overall -- Jonathan Mayo
Brandon Wood hitting 43 home runs in the hitter-friendly California League ballparks is impressive, but not quite as impressive as if he had performed similarly in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Wood's PECOTA card reflects this sentiment, as his raw numbers of .321/.383/.672 translate to a more reasonable and conservative .257/.309/.506. An 815 OPS is still solid for a SS, but those thinking that Wood can be a perennial 50-HR guy better think twice. #6 prospect overall -- Baseball Prospectus
Yes he did play in the thin desert air, but according to a scout we talked to, his power is 100% legit and most of his HR’s this year would have been out of any park. He’s a very good defensive SS, but should he grow much beyond his 6’3" 200 lb. frame, his range could be in question as a big league SS. No worries though, his bat will play anywhere. #1 organizational prospect -- Angelswin.com
Based solely on 2005, Brandon Wood might be the best prospect in baseball. He put together one of the most impressive offensive seasons ever from a minor leaguer...It's possible that something simply clicked inside Wood last year, allowing him to reach his inner-slugger, but I think it's more likely that his true value is somewhere between the mediocre 2004 campaign and the ridiculously good year in 2005. That's still damn good, of course. #10 prospect overall -- Baseball Think Factory
A 21-year-old is just as likely as a 28-year-old or a 35-year-old to have a performance that is out of line with his underlying ability level--the sort of performance that we’d ordinarily call a "career year." Now, when we look at the 21-year-old some number of years later, we might not see it as a career year, because it happens to come at a time before the player’s underlying ability level is at its peak...Because his true ability level is much higher at age 26 or 27 than it is at age 21, this turns out to be only the fourth- or fifth-best season of his career. But it’s a fluke season nevertheless, in that it’s a fairly misleading reflection of the player’s present level of talent. -- Nate Silver
The buzz surrounding Brandon Wood is understandable. Who wouldn't like to see a young shortstop with plus power emerge in his favorite organization's farm system? Wood may be labeled a "top prospect", but he has some work to do before reaching that potential. I think there is sufficient evidence from Wood's performance history and others' history to suggest he can overcome his recent tendency to strikeout, but it may take some years of refining his plate approach before we find out whether or not Wood will develop into a perennial all-star or a useful but less valuable all-or-nothing hitter. -- Chris Constancio (pre-2007)
Apparently this [Brandon Wood's strikeout rate] is one of the mortal sins in the Church of Sabermetrics, along with not taking a lot of walks...Don't obsess about the strikeouts. They're just growing pains. Ask Mike Schmidt. -- Stephen C. Smith (pre-2007)
Where Is He Now?
The bench, and he might not be in an Angels uniform for much longer. Are you ready to get sad?
While Dallas McPherson was physically falling apart in 2005-2006, the mantle of The Next Troy Glaus fell to Wood. The end of the McPherson saga was like The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke Skywalker runs off to go all emo on Daddy Vader. Some of us were like the ghost of Obi-Wan, who's all "damn yo, we screwed now." But everyone else is cool like Yoda when he goes: "No. There is another." Except the "other" was actually Carrie Fisher about to get fitted for a metal bikini.
There can be no taking away from Brandon Wood's remarkable accomplishment in 2005. Sure, no one has an outrageous season at the plate without some amount of beneficent luck. But in truth, hundreds and hundreds of players cycle in and out of the California League every year, most of them older than Brandon, and none of them have ever come close to 98 extra-base hits in a single season (Brandon also had an additional 3 XBH in a brief PCL assignment that year). Wood amassed more total bases in a single season than any other player since the minor leagues started recording their statistics. That's no joke.
But there were warning signs. Obviously the fact that the California League favors hitters dulled the luster of Wood's 1.054 OPS somewhat, but that complaint doesn't really hold up as I've just explained. The real problem was that Brandon Wood swung and missed more frequently than any other player in the minors that year. His high strikeout rate was not the concern per se. Rather, his low walk rate was a probable sign of poor pitch recognition, even for a 20 year-old. This became a point of contention between those who worry about on-base percentage and those who had already anointed Wood as The Next Mike Schmidt. Poor guy had to be the next Troy Glaus and the next Mike Schmidt too.
Still, we'd never know until he actually had a chance. His overall performance at AA Arkansas in 2006 didn't exactly set the world on fire, but he did de-fang some of his critics with substantially improved plate discipline. A mediocre showing in 2007, his first season with the Bees, was a genuine disappointment, however, and he totally cocked up his first two major-league cups of coffee that year. He showed no pulse at the plate in limited playing time: just 5-for-33 with a home run, 12 strikeouts, and no walks. No one sweat it, though, he was just 22 for crying out loud.
Brandon Wood became a model of consistency over the next two seasons with the Salt Lake Bees. He batted .294 with 53 home runs over 876 plate appearances during 2008-2009, all while bringing his K/BB ratio under control. He was among the most complete hitters in the PCL, but his occasional appearances with the big leauge club were as frustrating as they were frightening. He hit only .200 while striking out more than ten times for every walk during two extended call-ups in 2008. He was not any better in limited time the next year. With 86 games of major-league experience as well as three full seasons at AAA Salt Lake, it was definitely go time for Brandon when he finally obtained a permanent position with the club at age 25.
If Brandon Wood's season ended right now -- and it's getting awfully close to the end one way or another -- it would be the 13th worst offensive performance by a non-pitcher since the Second Boer War. Perhaps now we can look back at the numbers Wood put up at Salt Lake and suppose that their consistency was a sign stagnation. His .293 / .355 / .557 batting line from 2009 would look nice if it happened in the big leagues, but it happened in Salt Lake City, where breaking balls don't break and batted balls fly faster and farther. Various projection systems (including fan guesses) figured him to be about a .240 / .300 / .420 hitter in the majors. Retrospectively, we should have expected his probable talent level to have fallen from a Mike Schmidt to a Kevin Kouzmanoff or a Khalil Greene, guys who can still cover the ball but suffer from brutal K/BB ratios.
Right now, I think we'd all be thrilled with Kevin Kouzmanoff at third. But Wood has failed to meet even these realistic expectations. He's nothing close to guy he was in AAA last season, the numbers from his minor-league rehab assignment this year will attest to that. He's a dessicated, hollow shell of a former prospect at the plate. Is it in his head? Are the expectations gnawing at him? Has his talent just curled up and died? Is he betting against the Angels? We can't really know.
Many excuses have been floated in his defense, but they all fall flat. He's received more than his fair share of playing time in the last five years, and there was nothing abnormal about how the Angels managed his assignments. But the unavoidable fact is that he has 121 strikeouts to 11 walks in 421 plate appearances, scratching out just 17 extra-base hits in the process. While it's not impossible that he might be a useful player some day, he currently owns the seventh worst career OPS+ of any player in major-league history. That's a steep, steep cliff to climb.
So what are the Angels to do? They can't just hope he's an ugly duckling and send him back to the minors. He's out of options. They might be trying to sneak him back to AAA on waivers. That strategy won't last forever, though. Wood can continue to ride the pine since the rosters expand in a few weeks, but they can't afford to grant him a roster spot next year unless something miraculous happens in spring training. Most likely he will be non-tendered in the off-season and permitted to sign a minor-league deal with another club.
Should our tear ducts moisten if that happens? Sure, no one enjoys a heartbreak. But Brandon Wood has had remarkably good health, loads of time to mature, and multiple chances to show he can play in the major leagues. So many thousands of other guys never even come close to that. Believe it or not, he's been extremely lucky. And his time hasn't run out yet.
It's just the Angels who are out of time.
The end. There is no one left to disappoint you. From now on, all surprises can only be pleasant.