First, Pirates catcher Neil Walker moved from behind the plate to third base, which, while not shocking, was still a bit of a surprise considering the 2004 first-round pick only played five games at catcher above high Class A.
Now, the L.A. Times is reporting Angels shortstop Brandon Wood is finally making the move to the hot corner. Scouts believe the 6-foot-3 Wood can fit the profile of the modern shortstop in the mold Cal Ripken or Alan Trammell, but his size, blossoming power and the team’s need for a third baseman are the ultimate reasons for the shift.
Wood is not moving off the position completely, as he will split time between short and third when his regular season begins–which will likely be in Triple-A Salt Lake.
“This is really for our benefit and Brandon’s benefit,” manager Mike Scioscia told the Times. “If it works out and he can play third, to have that kind of bat coming up and having a position for him could help us.
“We’re not giving up on him as a shortstop, and I think that’s important; we’re very comfortable with his ability there. But right now, as you get up that funnel and get to the big leagues, a lot of times you have to become versatile to get to where you want to be. It’s something we’re going to look at.”
If Wood’s 2006 season hadn’t ended prematurely–he went to Cuba to play for Team USA in the Olympic Qualifier–he would have led the minors in extra-base hits for the second straight season. In 2005, Wood put up historic numbers, pounding 58 home runs between the minors, Arizona Fall League and Team USA.
Wood has tremendous bat speed that produces natural loft, but his swing gets too long too often, leading to his alarmingly high strikeout totals throughout his career. He’ll chase balls up in the zone above his hands, and has trouble with quality offspeed pitches.
“There are a lot of reasons why guys strike out–sometimes they’re expanding the zone a little bit and pitchers can exploit that, even at the lower levels,” Scioscia told the paper. “Sometimes guys just have a hole they can’t get to. I think with experience, you’re going to see the strikeouts drop and the walks continue to rise. There are a lot of guys who had a problem in that regard. Mike Schmidt and Matt Williams are two terrific examples at third base of guys who struggled early and figured it out. One’s a Hall of Famer, and one had a terrific career. That part of it, I think we’re confident Brandon will keep moving in the right direction.
“He has terrific bat speed. As he sees more pitches and starts to recognize his zones and what he needs to do, his stats will reflect that in a positive manner.”
The Angels now have some interesting decisions to make, as incumbent shortstop Orlando Cabrera has two years remaining on his $32 million contract. Utilitymen Macier Izturis and Chone Figgins, shortstop Erick Aybar and Wood will all compete for a spot on the left side of the infield as third baseman Dallas McPherson heals from offseason back surgery.
Some in the organization feel Aybar, who played some third base for Licey in the Dominican this winter, is major league ready.
“He’s really performed well over the last two years, particularly in winter ball,” Angels director of baseball operations Abe Flores said. “That has been a tremendous experience for him. He can hit, he has good speed, he’s a solid defender–at times an extremely acrobatic defender.
“He just needs to cut down the errors. He’s just so fearless, he gets careless. That’s the only way I can put it. It’s not lack of ability by any means–this guy is too talented. He’s so dynamic, such an exciting player . . . he just can get careless.”