Nationals’ Bright Future on Display as James Wood Debuts

Just Baseball's No. 1 overall prospect made his MLB debut for the Nationals on Monday.

James Wood of the Washington Nationals bats during the ninth inning of a spring training game.
WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 21, 2024: James Wood #50 of the Washington Nationals bats during the ninth inning of a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches on March 21, 2024 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

James Wood collected the first hit of his MLB career in his very first at-bat on Monday night, knocking a single to left-center field. He also drew a walk in his fifth and final plate appearance of the game, heading back to the locker room with a .400 on-base percentage. Not bad for a 21-year-old kid playing his first big league contest.

Needless to say, expectations for Wood were high entering his major league debut. The youngster was recently named Just Baseball’s No. 1 overall prospect for a reason.

Wood has done nothing but hit since joining the Washington Nationals organization as part of the Juan Soto trade at the 2022 deadline. Actually? Scratch that cliché. Wood does a lot more than just hit. He draws his walks, runs well, and can hold his own defensively in center field.

Like I said, he’s our No. 1 prospect for a reason.

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The Top Prospect in Baseball

The 6-foot-7 slugger delighted fans with a preview of his next-level skills this past spring, hitting .364 with six extra-base hits and a 219 wRC+ in 22 Grapefruit League contests. He continued tearing things up at Triple-A Rochester, slashing .353/.463/.595 with 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases in 52 games.

A hamstring injury in late May landed Wood on the shelf for nearly four weeks, but he came back in mid-June and picked up right where he left off. He went 8-for-24 with five walks and only five strikeouts, good for a 1.032 OPS across seven games before his call-up.

It was clear that Wood was ready for a new challenge. With the Nationals clinging on to relevance in a crowded NL Wild Card race, the team made the call to select Wood’s contract from the Rochester Red Wings.

Fans at Nationals Park greeted the future of their franchise with a standing ovation before his first trip to the plate.

Wood’s first batted ball clocked in at 106.7 mph off the bat, making it the hardest-hit ball by a Nationals batter all game. His 76.2-mph average bat speed would rank in the 96th percentile if he had enough swings to qualify.

Only one of the three balls Wood put into play last night was not hard-hit (below 95 mph), and even so, he used his terrific foot speed to force a throwing error and reach first safely.

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Unfortunately, the official scorer called it a reached on error (ROE). Watch the clip for yourself, but personally, I think Wood deserved a hit:

The Youth Movement in Washington

All eyes were on Wood last night, and rightfully so, but the top prospect wasn’t the only Nationals youngster who shined against the New York Mets.

Star shortstop CJ Abrams went 1-for-3 with two walks and two runs scored. Catcher Keibert Ruiz went 3-for-5 with an RBI. Center fielder Jacob Young failed to reach base, but he recorded a pair of hard-hit liners that both found their way right into a fielder’s glove. He also scored a run in the 10th as the automatic runner on second base.

On the other side of the ball, starter MacKenzie Gore tossed 5.1 innings, striking out eight and walking one. He gave up just one earned run, lowering his ERA to 3.47.

Although the Nationals could not pull off the comeback victory, ultimately falling 9-7 in extra innings, the team’s youngest players showed why better days are ahead in Washington.

The Nationals are still highly unlikely to make the playoffs in 2024, but they’re no longer at rock bottom. With a burgeoning young core and more top prospects on the way (ex. Dylan Crews, Brady House), the future of baseball looks bright in the nation’s capital.

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For more on Just Baseball’s No. 1 prospect, here is what Aram Leighton wrote about James Wood on our latest Top 100 Prospects list:

1. James Wood – OF – Washington Nationals

Height/Weight: 6’7″, 220 | Bat/Throw: L/R | 2nd Round (62) – 2021 (SD) | ETA: 2024


At 6-foot-7 with impressive athleticism, fluidity and mobility, Wood is a rare talent with boundless upside. He surprised many with a more advanced feel to hit at the lower levels in his first full pro season but has run into some whiff challenges at the upper levels.


Starting upright and open, Wood sinks into his backside with a small leg kick and coil. The moves are relatively simple and repeatable, but repeating anything when you’re 6-foot-7 is going to be a bit more difficult than it is for most hitters. He has made some minor tweaks with his load which has made his moves more repeatable and the results have been more than evident through Spring Training and his 2024 campaign, seeing big gains in his contact rates while cutting his chase.

Boasting effortless pop to all fields, Wood already flashes top-of-the-scale exit velocities, with a 90th% exit velocity right around 107 mph in his age 20 season and climbing. He has the kind of power to leave the yard on “B” swings and is still learning to tap into it more consistently.

Secondary stuff gave Wood some trouble after his promotion to Double-A, but his ability to pulverize fastballs and hangers kept him afloat. With the aforementioned strides in the bat-to-ball and swing decision departments, Wood now projects as an average hitter which is all he needs to potentially be one of the best power hitters in the game.

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A great athlete, Wood played basketball as well before moving down to Florida to focus on baseball (smart move). Wood is a plus runner, with massively long strides that help him close an outfield gap in what seems like a couple steps. His reads are a work in progress up the middle, resulting in some inconsistent routes, but he has flashed enough ability to stick up the middle.

If he slows down some, he could move to a corner where his above-average arm and offensive profile would play well. Wood accelerates well for such a big guy, swiping 18 bags on 21 tries in 2023. He should be a solid threat to put up similar stolen base numbers at the highest level.


There have been few players with Wood’s profile, which further highlights his upside and volatility. There’s as much to dream on with Wood as any prospect in baseball and his steady maturity at the plate only helps reinforce the belief that he can reach closer to his lofty ceiling. A rare talent, there’s 40 home run potential to dream on with the ability to play all three outfield spots. As he continues to hedge the perceived risk while tapping into his elite tools, Wood looks like the best prospect in baseball.