James Wood Ranks No. 1 In July 2024 Top 100 MLB Prospects Update


Continuity has been the traditional hallmark of Baseball America’s No. 1 Prospect in the Top 100 rankings list. In recent years, Gunner Henderson, Adley Rutschman and Wander Franco all held the top spot after being crowned the top prospect in the game until they graduated. 

That has not been the case so far in 2024.

Our preseason No. 1 Jackson Holliday was eventually supplanted by Pirates righthander Paul Skenes. And now that Skenes has graduated, Nationals outfielder James Wood has moved to No. 1. Holliday, who sat at No. 2 when Skenes was bumped up, remains second overall.

As we said when Skenes ascended to No. 1, this isn’t a repudiation of Holliday as a prospect. It’s a recognition of just how impressive Wood has become.

Wood made his MLB debut on Monday. He has a near-perfect combination of tools, performance and proximity. Standing 6-foot-7, Wood possesses plus-plus raw power combined with exceptional athleticism for his size. Most players that size have seen their gait described as “lumbering.” Wood, however, is a fluid, athletic mover, much like Dave Winfield. Wood’s father Kenny and his sister Sydney both played Division I basketball. So it’s not stunning to see Wood resemble an NBA small forward in his build and athleticism. 

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And that’s what makes Wood so unique. He has natural strength and athleticism that pairs with savvy baseball skills and intelligence. It’s not unusual for players with longer levers to struggle with swing-and-miss issues. Naturally, these players can cover more of the plate, but they often struggle to adjust to inside pitches. 

Over Wood’s first few professional seasons he followed that theme. He struck out 31.5% of the time in 2023, and his career rate was 28.1% entering 2024. This season, however, Wood has shown marked improvement in this area. Prior to his callup, Wood had an 18.2% strikeout rate over 52 Triple-A games. 

Strong underlying metrics back Wood’s dynamic improvement in strikeout rate. During his time in Triple-A, Wood swung and missed at just 14.8% of pitches in-zone, which was a noticeable improvement year-over-year. Most of his swing-and-miss occurs when he chases out of the zone. Even that area is a minimal concern as Wood’s chase rate is above-average. 

This is another area of Wood’s game worth touching on: Elite on-base skills. Even when Wood’s contact skills weren’t quite this refined, his ability to work deep into counts and walk at a high rate was obvious. This balance of plate discipline and now-improved contact skills allows Wood’s set of loud tools to flourish. 

It feels a bit like burying the lede, but ultimately it’s Wood’s tremendous power and contact quality that make him such a special talent. Since the day Wood signed his pro contract, he’s ranked among the minor league leaders in exit velocity data. It doesn’t matter which measure of hitting the ball hard you use, Wood is at the top or among the leaders. At Triple-A in 2024, Wood has a 90th percentile exit velocity of 108.8 mph, which is an elite measurement ranking in the top five among players with 100 or more batted-ball events. Wood has true outlier power. His ability to access that power more consistently by making more contact and better swing decisions helped him ascend to the top of the prospect world.

While it’s his hitting ability that makes Wood a special talent, he’s not without supporting skills. Wood has the ability to play all three outfield positions, though he’s likely to profile best in right field long term. He’s a near top-of-the-scale runner with an average sprint speed of 29.7 feet/second in Triple-A. If that speed carries over to the majors—and there’s no reason to think it won’t—Wood will rank among the 15 fastest players in the majors.

The discussion of Wood vs. Holliday for No. 1 prospect was a long, diligent and difficult one. Holliday remains a truly elite prospect thanks to skills at the plate rarely seen for a player his age.

But Wood requires less projection at this point. Holliday will likely develop plus power as he matures; Wood already demonstrates plus-plus power. Holliday has plenty of defensive value, but so does Wood. While Holliday is a plus-plus runner, Wood is even faster. And for as polished as Holliday is as a hitter, Wood has narrowed that gap dramatically this year. Holliday is exceptionally young for Triple-A, but Wood, a 21-year-old who’s reached the big leagues, is too.

Wood has risen to the top spot—even if it’s just temporarily until he graduates—on the strength of his well-rounded skill set and truly outlier impact.

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