PHOENIX–Until he moved into an apartment near Old Town Scottsdale over the weekend, Brandon Wood had all the comforts of home in his first trip to the Arizona Fall League.
Wood bunked in the same room he had as a kid in Scottsdale, did not
need quarters to get his laundry done, and received the majority of his
three squares a day from his mom, Jill.
“Whether it is instructional league or the Fall League or spring
training, it’s always nice to get some extra time at home,” said Wood,
a 20-year-old shortstop who has jumped to the top of the Angels
prospect list with a breakout 2005 season.
Off the field Wood hung out with his tight circle of friends from
Horizon High here, guys who compete just as hard on their annual
December fly fishing trip to New Mexico as they do on the field.
This offseason, Wood has landed a big one.
Wood set a Fall League record by hitting four home runs in a 20-1
victory over Grand Canyon on Oct. 10, and had nine homers in his first
nine games. He also had a single Oct. 10, his 17 total bases setting
another league record.
From this angle, Mr. Wood’s neighborhood looked a little like Cooperstown.
Homer No. 1– a slider, driven to left field.
No. 2–a hanging changeup, to left-center field.
No. 3–a fastball up and away, to right-center.
No. 4–a fastball middle, to left-center.
Four homers, three different pitches, three areas of the park.
After his fourth homer, Wood entered the dugout and told his
teammates: “‘Don’t even ask me, I can’t explain it.’ It was one of
those days. I don’t know what happened. I think it was a little more
luck than talent. It seemed like everybody in that game had at least
three hits, you know. That was the craziest game I’ve ever played in.”
Wood’s early Fall League success has provided a coda to his stunning
year at Class A Rancho Cucamonga, where he hit .321-43-115 in his third
pro season after being taken by the Angels in the first round of the
2003 draft out of Horizon High. Wood led the California League in
homers, doubles (51), runs (109), extra-base hits (98) and slugging
percentage (.672) before a four-game promotion to Triple-A Salt Lake.
He finished the season with 101 extra-base hits to lead the minors in
that category as well as homers, doubles and total bases.
But if you are looking for bravado, you have come to the wrong guy.
Wood kibbitzed and made small talk with acquaintances and fans in
the stands behind the first-base dugout before last Saturday’s game
against Phoenix, and he had a small contingent of friends and family at
the game, including brother-in-law Tim Huff, who is a scout for the
Toronto Blue Jays.
“As good a baseball player as Brandon is, he is a better person,”
said Huff, who grew up in the Valley and played on traveling summer
all-star teams with Scottsdale product Paul Konerko and others.
“I have a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. They don’t know what Brandon
does on the baseball field, but to them he walks on water. He has no
ego. He never talks about himself. He’s very humble. He tries to
deflect everything from himself. The best perspective he has (is) he
knows he hasn’t done it where he wants to do it. He doesn’t get
satisfied with what he has done. It’s what you do tomorrow.”
Huff said Wood has not changed much from the youngster who would
find a way to Horizon’s annual baseball tournament and watch the games
for six or eight hours a day, maybe more, playing catch with himself
while soaking it all in.
“He fits in real well on the baseball field,” Huff said. “That’s
where he is the most vocal. That’s where he is the most comfortable.”
Wood’s work ethic manifested itself after his big summer, when
instead of taking time off he worked at the Angels’ instructional
league program in east Mesa.
“It’s good to get back in the groove. It’s early in the Fall League,
and I’d like to keep it going for the remainder of the year,” said
Wood, whose goal is to improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio (128-48 at
Rancho). “It’s a process. We’re working on it.
“You pay attention to how everybody goes about their business,
because everybody is down here for a reason. They are all great
players. You need to put your thinking cap on and get all the
information you can get.”
• Surprise second baseman and No. 2 hitter Howie Kendrick
(Angels), who teamed with Wood at Rancho Cucamonga this summer, had 20
hits in his first 38 at-bats while hitting safely in his first nine
games through Oct. 15. He was tied for the league lead with 13 runs.
• Third baseman Alex Gordon (Royals), the second player taken
in the 2005 draft, made his professional debut Saturday in the Fall
League as Surprise’s DH after being added to the roster to replace
first baseman Justin Huber. Gordon was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
• Shortstop J.J. Hardy (Brewers), originally scheduled to play in the Fall League, was replaced by Alicedes Escobar
on the Peoria Javelinas’ roster. Hardy was parent Milwaukee’s regular
shortstop for most of the second half of the regular season. Peoria
Saguaros lefthander Michael Connolly (Pirates) replaced righthander Ian Snell on (Pirates) after Snell spent the final month of the season with Pittsburgh.