The Washington Nationals are in the midst of an organizational rebuild after it was clear the wheels had completely fallen off from their 2019 World Series team. In early August, they arguably made the most painful trade of all, parting ways with All-Star outfielder and generational talent Juan Soto when it was apparent he would not re-sign long-term. The Nats got back five prospects in return from the San Diego Padres who they hope will help make them contenders once again in the future.
The haul was a badly needed replenishment of the Nats’ farm system that entered the season ranked 23rd overall on MLB.com’s rankings. Two of the key players in the deal, MacKenzie Gore and C.J. Abrams, have both graduated from prospect status, but Robert Hassell III (23rd best prospect in baseball), James Wood (35th best), and Jarlin Susana have boosted the Nats to #15 on MLB’s midseason farm system rankings.
“You can’t forget that Anthony (Rendon) and Trea (Turner) and Max (Scherzer) and (Bryce) Harper, all these guys, they were the Abrams, the Hassells, and the Woods of the world before they became superstars,” GM Mike Rizzo said to the Sports Junkies last month. “That’s what I would tell the fans. We put ourselves in a position to have sustained success and we’re hoping that this trade, the last trade deadline, and the last couple of drafts will allow us to supplement the talent base. Our goal is to win championships.”
On Friday, I went down to Fredericksburg’s Virginia Credit Union Stadium to watch the Fredericksburg Nationals play the Down East Wood Ducks where the Nats’ burgeoning young talent was on display. James Wood, batting 3rd and playing centerfield for the Nats, led the team with a four-hit night, including two doubles and two runs batted in. Fredericksburg piled on with a season-high 23 runs. Behind James in the order was 2021 eighth-round pick Will Frizzell, who had three home runs and knocked in seven runs.
James Wood's night for the @FXBGNats:
4 H (team-high)
— Nationals Player Development (@Nats_PlayerDev) August 27, 2022
Wood, a 19-year-old outfielder, has been making noise for Single-A Fredericksburg ever since making his organizational debut on August 5th. A DMV native, Wood was born in Olney, Maryland, and grew up playing travel ball with the Olney Pirates. A two-sport athlete, James played baseball and basketball at St. John’s College High School in DC before transferring to IMG Academy in Florida for his junior and senior years. While there, he focused solely on baseball and worked on his swing mechanics. Wood had committed to 2021 National Champions Mississippi State before he was drafted in the second round last year by San Diego where he signed for $2.6 million.
James Wood in the outfield. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
James’ dad, Kenny, was in the stands for the game and chatted about his progression so far.
Kenny told me that his son grew up a Yankees fan. James enjoyed his time out on the west coast in the Padres’ organization but is enjoying the advantages of being closer to home. Kenny played basketball professionally in Europe and while James also excelled at the sport, his son preferred playing baseball. Switching to IMG Academy was part of a decision to prioritize baseball. Kenny said due to stipulations with playing for St. John’s baseball team year-round, James faced “a choice to stay and not play baseball or go somewhere else. And IMG was a great opportunity which ended up turning out really well for him.”
Kenny Wood poses for a photo. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
James hit .337 with an OPS over 1.000 with Single-A Lake Elsinore before being traded where he has continued to shine. At a towering six-foot-seven, Wood patrols centerfield for the first-place Fredericksburg Nationals. While tall, Wood still has good speed allowing him to run down balls in a crucial defensive location and shown the ability to steal bases at a good rate; 20 out of 25 attempts this season. In addition, James’ smooth left-handed swing paired with the ability to hit to all fields rounds out the makings of an elite prospect. MLB.com’s rankings currently have Wood as the 35th top prospect in the country; one of 4 Nationals now inside the Top 100.
Jarlin Susana, also brought over in the Soto deal, has been intriguing as well. Jarlin lit up radar guns and drawn the eyes of Nationals fans throwing over 100 mph. He recently hit 103 mph on the mound in his first appearance for the Fred Nats at only 18 years old.
Fredericksburg features a couple other local ties, with catchers Maxwell Romero Jr. and Steven Williams who both played summer collegiate ball in the Cal Ripken League.
Maxwell Romero Jr during pre-game stretches. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
Romero played with the Alexandria Aces and was a league all-star in 2019 and most recently was the Miami Hurricanes starting catcher before becoming a 9th round pick of the Nats this year.
Steven Williams throws during pre-game. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
Steven Williams played for the Gaithersburg Giants in 2017 and was an 18th round pick in 2021 out of the University of Auburn.
Meanwhile, Peyton Glavine is a relief pitcher on the team. Peyton is the son of Hall of Famer Tom Glavine and the nephew of Mike Glavine.
Peyton Glavine warms up in the bullpen in the late innings. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
Leaving Fredericksburg, I was impressed. The Nationals will scuffle in the immediate future, but they may not have too long to wait before things turn around. And Wood will likely have a big say in that.
James Wood signs a card for a fan. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
James Wood during pre-game. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
James Wood during pre-game. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
James Wood singles up the middle. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
James Wood takes a lead off of first base. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
James Wood jogs home after a home run. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
James Wood celebrates with teammates after a Will Frizzell home run. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
James Wood hits his second double of the game. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
James Wood turns for second on his second double of the night. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
Starting Pitcher and 13th ranked Nationals prospect Andry Lara warms up before the game. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
Jarlin Susana signs autographs for fans before the game. (Photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB)
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