Is Brandon Wood fantasy-relevant?
That's a question we've asked around this time of year for three straight years now. For the past two years the only answer anyone -- probably even Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia -- could provide was a shrug and a guess. But this year he's slotted to start, or at the very least to remain in the big leagues and get a fair shot at playing regularly. This is the year he gets to work out of his struggles, instead of immediately heading to the bench because of them. This is the year he doesn't have to worry about being sent down if he falls out of favor. This is finally the year, right?
Nope, sorry, it's not.
Don't get me wrong; he can help in AL-only leagues. But in mixed leagues, Brandon Wood is a matchups play at best. Even with a major improvement, it's unlikely he'll approach the level of the top 10 third basemen or the standard you have for corner infielders.
Let's get this out of the way from the get-go: His 2007-09 stats mean relatively little. He wasn't really given the opportunity for every-day at-bats unless it was late in the year after a long minor league campaign or in sporadic, nerve-racking spurts during the season. So there's not much we can take it away from them, except the general note that Wood has consistently struggled to hit big league pitching. He has a .192 batting average in 224 at-bats, with a strikeout every 3.0 at-bats, so that's a safe statement, if not a big "Duh!" statement.
So we really have to weigh his talent most heavily, and more specifically how his talent fits the major league game. And then we must be realistic about our expectations for this season. Only then can we determine his true value for 2010.
So just how talented is Wood? Well, we do know he has major power, and was a legit first-round pick right out of high school. But my concern here is that he doesn't have the prodigious power that many scouts and projectors feel he has. In many ways, he's still riding a 2005 campaign that was the stuff of legend. That year, at the ripe old age of 20, he hit an amazing 58 homers in a lengthy season that included Double-A ball, the Arizona Fall League and a stint with Team USA. Quite impressive, eh? But if you take away that season from his minor league track record, he has 117 homers in 2,389 at-bats. That equates to 24 homers every 500 at-bats, far less impressive. And since that minor league season was five years ago, and we have a large sample size to pull from since then, it's not ridiculous to claim the lower averages are much more accurate.
Given Wood's recent minor league track record, his age and his relative big league inexperience, we're looking at maybe a 25-30-homer hitter this season, at the very most, and a number in the low 20s -- 22 sounds about right, if not optimistic -- seems more accurate. And how many third basemen hit 22 or more homers in 2009? Nine of them (seven of them hit 25 or more, if you'd like to be really optimistic and stick to that number). How many corner infielders hit 22-plus homers? Try 27 (25 of whom also hit 25 or more homers). See, even a 25-homer season isn't really that special among corner infielders, and a good number of fantasy options supplement it with quality in other areas. Wood likely won't, as you'll see. Homers are his calling card, and he's not really that special in that area.
Next we look at his steals. Wood did have seasons of 21 and 19 steals early in his minor league career, but as his 6-foot-3 frame has filled out those numbers have dwindled. In 2008, between Double-A and the majors, he had 10 steals in 15 attempts (he was 6-for-11 in the minors). And last season he had just one steal in 117 games between the majors and minors. It's safe to say he's not a base-stealer. Five steals is probably all you can expect, and in standard mixed leagues, five steals or fewer are a detriment to a player's 5x5 value, as our Player Rater shows.
Now we discuss his albatross: the batting average. Yes, Wood has hit a respectable .286 in his minor league career, settling in at about .295 at Triple-A, but we shouldn't expect that to translate to the majors, and not only because the quality of the pitching improves greatly between the levels. The biggest difference between the minors and the majors is the quality of the breaking pitches, and Wood has traditionally been an early-in-the-count dead fastball hitter. He has very fast hands and can turn around any fastball in the game. That's how he hits his homers. But once he gets deep into counts, he sees the junk, and he struggles to make contact. And that's why he strikes out so often. Coming into the league, he was the modern-day Pedro Cerrano.
To his credit, he is making adjustments. According to Wood's batting trends on STATS' Statspass, he actually has hit righty sliders in the majors pretty well in the past two years, although it has come with surprising struggles against righty fastballs. Then again, there's really not much of a sample size to pull from there, and he still profiles as a fastball hitter. In the curveball-heavy American League, that won't sit well. He'll see a steady diet of offspeed pitches early in the count from pitchers who can throw them for strikes. Until he proves adept at hitting to all fields and fighting off breaking pitches -- most dead fastball hitters remain fastball hitters no matter how many adjustments they make -- his batting average will have a cap to it.
Putting the pieces together, Wood strikes out every 3-4 at-bats, he's a fly-ball hitter, and he struggles to hit breaking stuff late in counts that profiles as someone who will hit roughly .260 or below over a full season. Hopefully by now, we don't need to tell you how destructive sub-.260 hitters can be, especially for a corner infielder in a mixed league. Even Carlos Pena, who clubbed 39 homers, finished 136th in our 2009 Player Rater. He finished with 4.80 Player Rater points and would have finished much higher had his .227 batting average not cost him 1.78 Player Rater points. And he also walks a lot more than Wood, limiting the at-bats he tossed into the cumulative team pool. Low-average hitters can be poison to a fantasy team unless they add a healthy amount of the other four categories.
Wood won't do that. He might pop a few homers, but don't look for high runs or RBI totals. First of all, he's projected to hit in the bottom third of the Angels' lineup, limiting his output in both areas. But more importantly, he won't post a high OBP or batting average, which would be evident in his runs and RBIs, respectively.
If Wood qualified at shortstop, he'd be interesting in fantasy. However, he didn't play enough games there in 2009 to be eligible to open the year there, instead spending most of his time at third base. Erick Aybar is locked in at shortstop, so don't look for that to change. And you mixed-leaguers should expect more from your corner infielders than the, say, .255-20-60-60-3 numbers he'll provide.
Brandon Wood falls under the common fantasy term "post-hype prospect," which is a prospect with great expectations who falls short at the big league level and is virtually forgotten. In some cases, the prospect eventually figures it out (over the course of years, not months) and thrives once he makes the necessary adjustments. In others (more often than not), it turns out the prospect just isn't that good or doesn't have the necessary tools to succeed at the big league level. Wood is only 25, and might still have a bright future, but neither of those two most common scenarios has him succeeding in the major leagues in 2010.
Wood will hit his share of homers in 2010, but really, is that all that impressive anymore? If you're looking for sleepers, pick someone who could hit for a decent average or steal some bases, and if they hit homers, great. But counting on Wood to produce for your mixed-league squad will only to lead to disappointment. Make him prove himself first.
Brendan Roberts is a fantasy editor and Fantasy Sports Writers Association award-winning contributor to ESPN.com.