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Brandon Wood’s a Free Man

For three years now, Brandon Wood has whacked AAA pitching and waited for an opening at the major league level. With Chone Figgins set to join the Mariners , it appears that Wood finally has a clean shot at winning a job with the Angels.

L.A.’s first-round pick in the 2003 amateur draft, Wood posted promising numbers as a teenager in Rookie Ball and in the Low-A Midwest League. But the 6-3 righty batter really burst onto the prospect scene in 2005, scorching the High-A California League.

The Cal League is known for offensive outbursts, but Wood’s .321/.383/.672 line at Rancho Cucamonga was still eye-popping. He clubbed 43 home runs and posted a .351 ISO, while playing shortstop, no less.

Wood walked in 8.1 percent of his PA, while punching out at a moderate 21.5% clip. Ranking Wood the best prospect in L.A.’s system, Baseball America predicted he would “develop into a perennial all-star infielder at either shortstop or third base.”

Promoted to the AA Texas League in 2006, Wood continued to crush while sticking at shortstop. He authored a .276/.355/.552 triple-slash in 552 PA. Wood’s whiff rate spiked (32.9 K%), though his secondary skills remained elite. He posted a 10.7 BB%, with a .276 ISO.

Since then, Wood has pulverized the Pacific Coast League:

Wood’s AAA numbers, 2007-2009

2007: .272/.338/.497, .224 ISO, 9.3 BB%, 27.5 K%
2008: .296/.375/.595, .299 ISO, 10.2 BB%, 26.3 K%
2009: .293/.353/.557, .264 ISO, 8.5 BB%, 20.7 K%

Wood has oscillated between shortstop and third base in AAA, splitting his time between the positions almost evenly in 2009.

In 1,383 career PA with Salt Lake, Wood owns a .287/.354/.547 line. Salt Lake is another excellent hitting environment. While I can’t find park factors for the 2009 season, this Baseball Think Factory thread shows that Spring Mobile Ballpark (home of the Bees) increased run scoring by six percent and home runs by seven percent compared to a neutral ball park from 2006-2008.

Here are Wood’s Major League Equivalent (MLE) lines from ’07 to ’09, courtesy of Minor League Splits:

2007: .210/.263/.370
2008: .235/.299/.446
2009: .235/.283/.432

Penalizing Wood for hefty punch out rates and the high-octane hitting environment of Salt Lake, those MLE’s don’t paint an especially pretty picture.

From 2007 to 2009, Wood’s playing time with the Angels could best be described as scattered. In 236 trips to the plate, he has batted just .192/.222/.313. He has walked in 3% of his PA, while striking out 33 percent. Wood’s outside-swing percentage is near 37 percent (25% MLB average), with a 68.5% contact rate (80-81% MLB average).

Those numbers are ugly. But let’s not bury the guy for a couple hundred bad PA’s split over a three-year period. Now that third base appears to be his for the taking, what can Wood provide fantasy owners in 2010?

Sean Smith’s CHONE projects a .242/.304/.434 line next season, which equates to a WOBA of about .319. The fans are a bit more optimistic, envisioning a .257/.315/.450 performance (.331 wOBA). Per Baseball Prospectus, Wood’s 2009 line in AAA translates to a .249/.308/.479 MLB triple-slash (.336 wOBA). For comparison, the average MLB third baseman hit .265/.335/.421 in 2009 (.332 wOBA).

Turning 25 in March, Wood doesn’t as a major league star any more. His low contact rate and average plate discipline make it difficult to envision an OBP above the big league average (.333 in 2009).

But don’t write him off as a bust, either. Wood possesses ample pop, and he’s not a total hacker at the plate. Baseball Prospectus’ peak translation for Wood (which attempts to forecast a player’s top performance level in the majors) is .256/.319/.513 (.354 wOBA).

Wood’s star no longer shines brilliantly. However, he’s still capable of being a solid starter in the majors. That may be disappointing to those who hoped for a franchise player, but Wood is worth targeting in A.L.-only and keeper leagues.