Wood poised to claim third for Halos
Kendrick has little doubt friend ready to stick with big club
Howard Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Brandon Wood were the three gems of the Angels' farm system from 2003 into '06, when Kendrick and Aybar reached the Majors one year ahead of Wood.
Kendrick and Aybar have established themselves as quality middle infielders on the big stage with brilliant futures.
Kendrick, convinced Wood's time has come, firmly believes his good buddy is fully prepared to join him and flourish in one of the Majors' most productive young infields at third base, replacing Chone Figgins.
"I definitely think Brandon should be given a shot," Kendrick said by phone from Phoenix. "It's not for me to decide, obviously, but if he gets the opportunity, I think he's ready to show people what he can do.
"I'm not saying Brandon's going to hit 30 home runs or 40 home runs. But he has the ability to do that. I've seen what he can do. And he's very good defensively. He can pick it, whether he's at third or short."
Early on, it was Wood making the largest splash of the trio, notably with a dominant 2005 season at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga. His 43 homers, 115 RBIs and 51 doubles led the California League. Kendrick, batting .384 before getting promoted to Double-A Arkansas, formed a formidable tandem with Wood -- something he'd love to re-enact in Anaheim this season.
"I played with Brandon for the first three years, from rookie ball [in 2003] on up," Kendrick said. "He was always a shortstop, so we took a lot of ground balls and turned double plays together.
"He's always hit for power, and that's what a lot of teams look for at third base. Figgy is a great third baseman and was a great leadoff man for us. Wood's the type of guy who can provide that power -- and he's definitely got the glove and arm you need."
The intangibles, Kendrick submits, enhance the package.
"I've been around Brandon long enough to know he has the drive and work ethic to succeed," Kendrick said. "He's a laid-back guy, but he loves to compete and is willing to do whatever it takes. I'm sure he's looking at this as an opportunity to show what he can do.
"He's waited a long time. I mean, he spent three years at Triple-A [Salt Lake]. It was different for Aybar and myself. We got our opportunities quicker. I think Brandon's ready to prove he belongs in there this year."
The Angels have versatile, multi-talented Maicer Izturis in the wings, ready to step in at second base and shortstop as well as third.
Wood, like most power hitters, has a long swing and has struggled at times to resist his impulse to chase pitches out of the strike zone.
He has hit only .192 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in 224 Major League at-bats, but they've come sporadically across the past three seasons. His only consistent playing time came late in the 2008 season when, with Aybar and Izturis sidelined, he hit .256 with four homers, 11 RBIs in 86 at-bats while playing quality shortstop.
Last season at Salt Lake, Wood batted .293 with 22 homers and 72 RBIs in 99 games. He hit .195 with one homer and three RBIs in 41 at-bats with the Angels.
The knock on Wood has focused on his plate discipline, and that's where his biggest improvement came. He raised his on-base percentage at Salt Lake from .327 in '08 to .353, cutting his strikeouts from 104 to 80 in nine fewer at-bats.
"I don't think any young hitter can be successful without consistent playing time," Kendrick said. "He's hungry for that. Brandon understands the situation. We've all been through it where there's a guy in front of us -- and with him it's been a great player, Figgy. It's tough.
"You see it with our young outfielders. Those guys can all play, but we've got established guys out there in front of them.
"The thing about Brandon is, he hasn't let it get to him. He's kept working, kept getting better. He's been patient. I really want to see him do well -- especially knowing the type of person he is. He's someone you really pull for, because he's such a great guy."
Wood will be 25 on March 2. He'll be at Tempe Diablo Stadium, not far from his Scottsdale home, making his bid to join Kendry Morales, Aybar and Kendrick (all 26) in an infield that could deliver power at the corners along with high average with speed from Aybar and Kendrick, who batted .312 and .291, respectively, last season.
Defensively, the quartet has the potential to rank among the game's best. And that doesn't change when Izturis grabs a glove.
Wood, who has been sought by a number of clubs in trade conversations for several years, is out of Minor League options.
Morales, exploding on the scene with a .306 average, 34 homers and 108 RBIs in '09, came to camp last spring with the mind-set that he had to win a job even though he was the clear heir apparent in Mark Teixeira's absence.
"I'm taking the same approach as Kendry," Wood said. "Nothing is handed to you in this game. You have to earn it. That's what I intend to do."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia has expressed confidence in Wood's ability to handle the challenge.
"He's absolutely ready for the opportunity, much like Kendry Morales was ready for the opportunity," Scioscia said. "I'm not saying he's going to put up Kendry's numbers, but him playing in the Minors right now isn't going to help him in the Majors. He's ready for that challenge."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.