James Wood’s Debut Marks Significant Moment In Nationals’ Rebuild


Image credit: (Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images)

The line of fans extended beyond the gates of Nationals Park and around the block, waiting for the gates to open promptly at 5:30 p.m. And once it did and they flooded the stadium, fans encountered the game’s giveaway item, a simple red t-shirt with the silhouette of a player on it. 

The words, however, are what generated excitement: “Welcome to the show James Wood.” 

Fans quickly swapped their own jerseys, some with names like Soto, Harper and Strasburg emblazoned on the back, in exchange for their new one. A changing of the guard was, both literally and figuratively, underway at Nationals Park. 

Nationals fans buzzed with excitement all weekend since news of Wood’s impending callup broke Friday afternoon. Wood, one of baseball’s top prospects, was a key part of the return in the Juan Soto trade. It was perhaps the most anticipated Nationals debut since Bryce Harper in 2012, an introduction to yet another future face of the franchise. 

“It’s exciting,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I don’t want him to feel like he’s the face of anything. I just want him to go play baseball.”

Even so, you could certainly feel the anticipation. Monday’s pregame clubhouse availability featured arguably the most local and national baseball writers at one time since Washington’s 2019 postseason run. 

Yet to his credit, Wood said he wasn’t nervous ahead of his debut against the NL East rival Mets. His demeanor has remained largely the same since he was drafted in 2021. To him, it’s just baseball. 

When asked how he could possibly treat this day like any other game, Wood replied, “I mean, at the end of the day it is.”

Wood, 21, displayed the type of stoic maturity more accustomed from a 10-year MLB veteran. He told reporters that the best advice he received was to just be himself. Based on his immense ceiling, the Nationals would be quite happy with that result.  

Washington is slightly exceeding expectations, especially on the pitching side. The Nationals’ offense, though, has struggled and they’ve been unable to break .500. Wood’s arrival may jolt both the team–and the fan base–awake at a time where Washington needs to make a push. 

The World Series win in 2019 was a peak for the organization. However, they did so with the oldest team in baseball. Many key players retired or had contracts not renewed. A lineup once full of All-Stars now looks very different. The Nationals haven’t finished a season with a winning record since. The steady erosion made a much-needed overhaul unavoidable. 

The Soto blockbuster two seasons ago was the most decisive moment of Washington’s rebuild. The Nationals dealt Soto to the Padres in exchange for a haul of prospects that included Wood, MacKenzie Gore and CJ Abrams.

Wood’s arrival means all three of those pieces are now in Washington. His debut just so happened to coincide with a Gore start. Abrams batted leadoff and played shortstop, as he has for nearly every game this season.

Wood, a Maryland native, walked to the plate in the second inning to a standing ovation from over 20,000 fans. Over 50 of those fans are family and friends who were able to attend the hometown kid’s first game. 

Fittingly, Wood wasted little time making an impact and teasing his immense power potential, lacing a 106.7 mph single in his first at-bat. In the ninth inning, Wood stepped up to the plate in a tie ballgame with the opportunity to play hero. He immediately impacted the game with his speed, legging out a two-base error and reaching third base before he was stranded to end the inning. 

If all goes according to plan, it’ll be the first night of years of power contributions from one of the games’ more exciting young power brokers. Unless Wood wins or finishes second in NL Rookie of the Year voting, he will remain under team control until 2030. 

He is the first of several key pieces to arrive from the Nationals’ farm system. Washington is already tied for the third-youngest team in MLB, and it could get younger before long with fellow Top 100 Prospects Dylan Crews and Brady House in the upper minors. 

But Wood’s arrival feels especially significant given his pedigree and performance in 2024. At 6-foot-7, 234 pounds, his size makes him easy to spot. His physicality and athleticism made him one of the top players in the 2021 draft class. 

The Padres drafted the outfielder in the second round of the 2021 draft before dealing him to Washington. Wood’s plus-plus raw power helped him quickly move through the Nationals minor league system. By the 2024 season, it was no longer an “if” but a “when” he would join the big league roster. 

“I thought he’d be up here this year,” Martinez said with a laugh. “I didn’t know when but he was progressing really well.”

The poker-faced prospect couldn’t help but crack a smile and dance when his first MLB at-bat resulted in an opposite-field single. He is the 14th player in Nationals history with a hit in his first career at bat. It was just like he and the Nationals dreamed up. A new era of Nationals baseball has arrived. 

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