James Wood, one of the Washington Nationals' highly-touted prospects, has put together a very solid 2023 season at High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg, with 28 doubles, eight triples, 26 home runs, 91 RBI and a slashline of .262/.353/.520 for an .874 OPS across 129 games.
"You can't ask anything more from him, he's done everything we asked him to do," Rizzo said on Wednesday during his weekly appearance with 106.7 The Fan's The Sports Junkies, which is presented exclusively by our partners at MainStreet Bank — Cheer Local. Bank Local. Put Our Team in Your Office..
"We recognized the strikeout numbers are a little elevated at the Double-A level, but I think that all in all, defensively, base running-wise, the IQ of the game, the speed of the game, and obviously the offensive quotient of it, he's been terrific," the GM said of the six-foot-seven 21-year-old. "He's one of the biggest prospects in the game and the guys gonna impact the big league club. He's a terrific player."
Wood is currently the 2nd-ranked prospect in the Nationals farm system behind Dylan Crews and ahead of Brady House, who both at Double-A Harrisburg. Wood is also the seventh-ranked prospect in all of baseball with Crews at No. 4 and House at No. 40, according to MLB Pipeline.
When asked about the specifics of the strike zone numbers – the outfielder has gone down on strikes 124 times out of 368 plate appearances at Harrisburg or 33.69 percent – Rizzo said the organization will do "a deep dive" on all of the minor league players.
"Well, there's certain characteristics that we look at," the GM said, adding, "Are you striking out on chasing pitches outside the strike zone? Are you missing pitches in the strike zone? Those are all different questions that we ask and we look at video and that type of thing. And to me, you can live with a high 20s strikeout rate if you're a power hitter and hitting a lot of home runs. If you're hitting 30 home runs we can accept 28 percent strikeout rate.
"But if you're supposedly a contact-speed hitter, and you're striking out 25, 27 percent of the time that's not unacceptable. Depends on the profile of the player, what his skillset is, and what his other tools bring to the table."
But when it comes to making it to the big leagues, Rizzo said the toughest jump for Wood and every prospect is the jump that you make from the minors to the majors and the challenge then becomes sticking around the big league club.
The GM added that, it making it is "a painstaking process that has it's ups and downs and you have to really have the mental capacity along with the physical capacity to really succeeded in the game because it's a sport when you succeeded only 30 percent of the time and then you're a helluva player when you do that 30 percent of the time.
"It's a different world and it's never been more difficult to be a big league player because of the velocities and the pitch shape and all the high-tech equipment that we're emplyong and implementing to get better. These young players really have a challenge.
"And to be under the microscope these players are under – as minor leaguers and as prospects – I've never seen it before. It's truly exploded in the last two or three years with social media. James Wood is a celebrity where as 10 years ago you'd be reading about him once a month in like Baseball America magazine. The landscape has really changed for those players."
Switching gears to a former prospect who is now looking to stick around the big leagues, right-hander Jackson Rutledge made his second big-league start (after getting hit in the head in his debut) and pitched 6.1 innings allowing just two runs (both solo homers) on six hits with one walk and two strikeouts in Tuesday night's win.
"He kinda got back to what he's been throughout this season in Double-A and Triple-A," Rizzo said of the 24-year-old who made his debut on extended rest and likely was out of his normal routine.
"He pounded the bottom of the strike zone, he's got three pitches, he throws a four-seemer, a two-seemer and a couple of different shape-breaking balls and a change-up," the GM told the Junks. "So he comes at you with three or four pitches, he was throwing strikes, one walk which was the key to his whole success, and as Max Scherzer proved and said many times 'Solo homers we can absorb and still win games, it's when you put guys on base in front of those home runs that kill you.''
Rizzo added: "The next step for him is being consistent. Getting ahead of more [batters] and first pitch strike percentage and that type of thing. And I think it goes to show, he threw, I believe, 74 pitches and pitched into the seventh inning. So I think he had a good outing and it was a good stepping stone for the next outing or two he has at the end of this year and going into spring training."