While many scouts and MLB baseball coaches were beginning to turn their heads on James Wood towards the end of his senior season, IMG Academy hitting coordinator John-Ford Griffin continued to have every ounce of faith in this 6'6" outfielder from Olney, MD.
What may have looked like a "slump" from the outside was actually an opportunity to grow as a player and as a person. Woods and Ford-Griffin capitalized on a moment where many may have hung up their bat or simply have settled for the easier, collegiate road ahead. While working closely with Ford-Griffin and using unforeseen challenges with COVID-19 to the best of his advantage, Wood recognized, with the support of his IMG baseball coach, that he had a major opportunity in front of him. It was just how he approached the situation that would make all the difference and frame his future as an MLB player.
From adjusting his pre-swing setup to maximizing his size and agility, Griffin knew that Wood had seemingly unlimited potential. He also recognized that, from the outside, Wood's demeanor may seem lackadaisical, but, to anyone working with him directly, it was that same trait that truly set him apart from other players of his caliber. They zoomed, they texted, they trained. This duo put any numbers and stats behind them and took to the challenge head-on.
Fast forward to the second round of the 2021 MLB Draft, and this IMG baseball student-athlete was headed to San Diego after being selected by the Padres.
Check out this feature from IMG Academy on his selection last year:
In 2021 in the Arizona Complex League, Wood "impressed on defense as, perhaps, the tallest center fielder in professional baseball," according to The Athletic. The Padres continued to challenge and support Wood on the same crucial tactics that Ford-Griffin had impressed upon him in Bradenton.
One of the things with his swing that we noticed is how compact he is for a long-levered guy. Usually, those guys tend to get very lengthy, and putting his hands (higher), he was able to stay really, really short to the ball.”
- Mark Connor, San Diego Padres minor-league field coordinator
As that season concluded, Wood finished at or near the top of the leaderboards in that league in average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He also debuted in the Low-A with Lake Elsinore before missing several games due to a minor injury. "Most public rankings have him and Lake Elsinore teammate Jackson Merrill, the Padres’ first-round pick last July, as the organization’s Nos. 5 and 6 prospects. Internally, some team officials would put each player a bit higher. Griffin, who had two major-league stints with the Blue Jays, said Wood’s athleticism reminds him of former teammate and two-time All-Star Alex Rios," according to The Athletic.
It doesn’t surprise me that he does well, and I actually expect him to even continue to do better. He’s that kind of a caliber of player. I do think he’s elite. And I think he’s elite at every league he plays in, just because of the way his attitude and demeanor is and what he has in terms of his physical attributes.”
- John-Ford Griffin, IMG hitting coordinator, former Blue Jays outfielder, and Yankees’ 2001 first-round pick
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