Skip to Content

Merry James Wood Day To All Who Celebrate

James Wood at the plate.
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Well now! That was quite a wait, wasn't it? Sure, it was frustrating, and at times even downright miserable, and we did not always handle our emotions in ways that we can now look back upon with pride. But the point is that drinking glasses and television remotes and marriages are replaceable. What is not replaceable is the rapture of this most blessed day, the day marking the arrival, at last, of 21-year-old top prospect James Wood on the major-league roster of the Washington Nationals. Huzzah! Huzzahs all around!

The Nationals leaked the news Friday afternoon that Wood, who has spent most of the spring and early summer absolutely terrorizing Triple-A pitching, would be called up to join the big club for the start of an upcoming eight-game home-stand, kicked off Monday night with a series-opener against the division-rival New York Mets. Not to complain, or to give even the merest appearance of ingratitude, or to in any way offend the wonderful people who are bringing Wood to millions of televisions around the globe this very evening, but: This could've happened a lot sooner. Wood was arguably the most productive player in the Grapefruit League back in the winter, posting an OPS of 1.214 in his first exposure to top-quality pitching. The Nationals, who even after jettisoning brain-boomed former top prospect Victor Robles have had an underpowered patchwork outfield of random try-hard goobers and failed reclamation projects, could very reasonably have given Wood a starting gig out of camp. Instead, they sent him to Rochester.

Right out of the gate and then without any sustained dip, Wood has pounded the bejeezus out of International League pitching, socking doubles and dingers all over the place, showing mastery of the strike zone, swiping bags with ease, and in general performing the way that you'd expect a very good major-leaguer to perform against minor-leaguers. The Nationals could very reasonably have summoned him to the majors in early May, when he was posting a .995 OPS and the Nats were giving a corner-outfield role to Eddie goddamned Rosario, who even after a modest June surge entered today batting .183 with a .555 OPS, and in the bottom five percent in MLB in Statcast's fancy xwOBA metric. Instead, manager Davey Martinez argued on May 8 that Wood needed to show some improvement against left-handed pitching. The following weekend Wood socked another pair of dingers, one of which was against a lefty, on a two-strike breaking ball. This raised his slugging percentage against lefties to .515 on the season. Martinez may possibly have been stalling.

They could've called him up really anywhere in there, and they might've, except that Wood injured his hamstring on May 23, and was placed on the injured list, and wound up missing nearly four weeks of action. I realize I am now providing a tedious blow-by-blow recitation of the recent day-to-day of a minor-leaguer. It's almost over! Just like our interminable wait for Wood's major-league debut! Wood returned to the Rochester lineup on June 18, took a couple of games to get his sea legs, and then socked a huge opposite-field dinger off of former Padres and Mets lefty starter Joey Lucchesi, on a first-pitch breaking ball. In seven games since returning to action, Wood is batting .333 with an OPS of 1.031. There is nothing left for him to prove against Triple-A pitching.

Wood, a loping and freakishly large but shockingly capable center fielder, will debut in left field Monday night for the Nationals. To clear the roster space, the Nationals designated the 32-year-old Rosario for assignment, yeeting him from the roster and into what could be his baseball afterlife. Head Nats baseball honcho Mike Rizzo had hoped to spend the first half of this season rehabilitating Rosario and fellow left-fielder Jesse Winker and then gaining the space for Wood's debut by trading one or both of them for prospects, but the time for that experiment is blessedly over. Winker has had a solid season and could still be moved, but Andrew Golden of the Washington Post reported Friday that Winker has recently been taking practice reps at first base, which suggests both that Wood is going to be the everyday guy in left and that Winker might be on the roster long enough to need another position. If that buys Nats fans a prolonged break from exposure to the dreaded Joey Gallo, another failing reclamation, an extra helping of huzzahs all around.

The Nationals are in the thick of the big clump of mediocrity hanging off the National League Wild Card. Wood should make them better, even if his first months in the majors look more like Jackson Holliday's than Juan Soto's, for the simple fact that he almost definitionally cannot be worse than Rosario. He will share the field tonight with shortstop C.J. Abrams (batting .283 with 38 extra-base hits) and starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore (sixth in the NL in Ks per nine innings), the other two top prizes from the disgraceful and horrifying 2022 trade that sent Soto to the San Diego Padres. Baseball can still rip your guts out, but every once in a while it burps up a Paul Skenes or a James Wood, and gives us a new national holiday. It's burgers and wieners on the grill tonight, my friends! And fireworks!

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter