* 3B Eric Wood (Oshawa, Ont.) played for Team Ontario, the Ontario Blue Jays and was with Blinn College Buccaneers, when the Pittsburgh Pirates made him the top Canadian selected in 2012, choosing him in the sixth round. He's now with the double-A Altoona Curve. Photo: Pirates Prospects. ....
By Alexis Brudnicki Canadian Baseball Network AKRON, Ohio – Eric Wood is having fun.
Since being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Blinn College in Blenham, Tex. in 2012, the 22-year-old third baseman has steadily moved up the organizational ladder, winning at almost every level along the way with a group of teammates who have become close friends.
Currently with the Double-A Altoona Curve, last year Wood and the rest of the Bradenton Marauders led their squad to a first-place finish in the second half of the Florida State League, only falling out of contention in the semifinals after a 78-61 season. The previous year, they took the second half of the South Atlantic League, the West Virginia Power finishing 82-58, and made it to the first round of playoffs.
Altoona sits atop the Eastern League Western Division standings right now with a 16-10 record.
“We’re really good,” Wood said before a road game against the Akron RubberDucks. “Winning always makes it really, really fun. Since we’ve been together, we have some history, and I don’t want to say there are not a lot of boundaries but we’re all open.
“The Pirates organization has really encouraged us to be open with each other since we’ve come together and it’s really worked out the best for everybody. We’re pushing each other to get better and to win, and hopefully we can do it in Pittsburgh at some point…The guys that I’ve come up the system with, we’ve all kind of come up together – me, Tyler Glasnow, Max Moroff, Josh Bell – and everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve won, so I think they’re trying to keep us together. It’s pretty cool.”
Transitioning to Altoona from Bradenton is often regarded as one of the biggest level jumps in the minor leagues. While Wood is still making adjustments to the new league, with 12 hits in 76 at-bats through his first 21 games, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound infielder feels as though he should be able to settle pretty quickly.
“The difference between High-A and Double-A has got to be the travel,” Wood said. “I was in the Florida State League so it was pretty easy that way. The weather is a factor a little bit too, so far, but other than that you see a lot more off-speed [pitches] in fastball counts.
“I’m getting adjusted to that, but it’s a good adjustment to make because that’s what they do in the big leagues … It’s the same at third base. They’re a little bit bigger guys, hitting it a little bit harder, but the adjustment is really the same. It’s a little bit faster.”
Offensively, the former member of the Ontario Blue Jays is continually working on improving his number of quality at-bats and getting deeper into counts against the higher quality of pitching.
“You can’t really sell out to certain pitches,” Wood said. “You really have to stick to your approach. You can’t abandon your approach throughout your at-bat. You have to stick to it until you get three strikes, until you’re out, because they can throw any pitch in any count …
“I’m not worried about numbers, I’m just worried about putting that together and being sharp defensively, all the routine stuff. I’m not focusing on numbers, more focusing on the process. It’s kind of a cliché, but it really is how it is because the game will eat you up if you just focus on the numbers.”
At the hot corner, Wood continues to put time in with Tom Prince, who he has worked with since he was in rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League and is currently the manager of the Curve.
“He knows me and he knows the kind of person I am and my abilities athletically, and what I need to do to improve,” the Oshawa, Ont., native said. “He’s helped me with seeing the ball, seeing the first hop, lateral movements – we’ve worked with our strength guys with lateral movements – and having a quick first step.
“Playing third, we have to have a quick first step, and make the right read. That’s just repetition. It’s hard to simulate it. When we were at home [working during the off-season], we do our best with reads. We will have guys soft tossing and guys hit the ball as it spins in the air. We try to simulate it as much as the game.”
Hailing from the east side of Toronto, where Wood believes that baseball may not get quite as much love as some other areas of the city, he returns home each winter to spend time with his family, and works out at The Competitive Edge in Ajax, Ont., sharing his wisdom with some of the younger players from the area while honing his own skills.
“When I’m home I’m with my family; I like to be close to them,” Wood said. “I like to be where I grew up just because a lot of the kids around that area know me because I’ve been going there regularly. So it’s good to work out with them. The OBJ place has a lot of pro guys already and on the east side there aren’t that many, so I like to stay out there.”
Wood played his Pickering High School games in the same place that will house the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games in Ajax, and is hoping he might get a shot at his first Team Canada roster for the tournament in July.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I played high school baseball on that same field, so of course I’ve thought a lot about it. If I get the opportunity to go, I’m going to go, as long as everything works out. I’ve always wanted to represent my country. I’ve never gotten a chance yet to do that, but I hope to maybe in the future.”
Not looking too far ahead, Wood is excited to keep going in his Double-A season with Altoona, hoping to stay hot and continue the successful run he and his teammates have had throughout their tenure together.
“One thing I’m looking forward to is just playing every day,” he said. “The season just started. We had an off-season of not playing and I didn’t play winter ball, so it’s just exciting to get back into it every day. We’ll see how it goes and get in that race. In Double-A now there are not two halves to the season, you have to play the full season to make it and get that record, so that’s different and exciting at the same time.”