Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jason Wood (Part 1)

Ten different Texas Rangers prospects appeared for the Surprise Saguaros in the 2011 Arizona Fall League campaign. Lone Star Dugout caught up with Myrtle Beach skipper Jason Wood, who recently spent two weeks with the Surprise club. This piece is part one of the two-part interview feature.

Jason Cole: You got a chance to spend some time coaching with Surprise in the Arizona Fall League recently, and you were able to check up on some of the players that you managed in Myrtle Beach this year. How long were you out there?

Jason Wood: I was there for two weeks.

Cole: Mike Olt is one guy that you had in Myrtle Beach. Just give me your impressions on how he looked in Arizona.

Wood: To tell you the truth, from what I saw in Arizona, he hadn't missed much of a beat, really, from where he left off early in the season. When he came back in the second half of the season––after his injury––the bat speed wasn't quite there yet. That really was the only factor. His agility at third base was fine. His arm was good. He did show some power off lefties when he came back.

But noticeably––and not so much surprising––but good was the fact that when I was out there in the Fall League, one thing that really stood out was that Mike was back on the fastball. And what I mean by ‘back on the fastball' was that he was able to hit 94-95 mph and turn it around the way he needed to on a consistent basis.

He's a good mistake breaking ball hitter, as we all know, and he gets a lot of his home runs on that. But it was good to see him to get back on the fastball. It showed me that the bat speed was back and his upper body was healthy again.

Cole: From the time that you got Olt early in the season in April through the end of the Fall League, what type of improvements did you see in his game?

Wood: I think the biggest thing for me––and as far as my hitting coach Julio Garcia––the biggest thing that we saw was his strike zone awareness. I think he got better as the season went on of not becoming such a free-swinger and knowing where his strike zone was and knowing what the strike zone was. He had better awareness of it. I think that was something that he needed to improve on from the year before when I saw him in instructional league. And he knew that. So he matured into being a little bit more of a selective hitter.

I put a few guys behind him this year. Somebody that was hot like––at times it was a Chris McGuiness, a Jared Bolden at times I hit behind him in the lineup, and Jared Prince quite a bit. I did it to where he was going to see some good pitches to hit. And I think that really helped him out. He wasn't chasing the slider in the dirt like I had seen in instructional league. Basically the biggest thing that I saw this year was the strike zone awareness.

Cole: As you mentioned, Olt definitely has good bat speed and all the overall tools to hit. The one negative from his game in the Fall League is probably the strikeouts. What does he have to do to cut down on those?

Wood: I think probably the biggest thing––and it's something we talked about––is maybe going into spring training or this offseason with a little bit more of a contact two-strike approach. Maybe shorten up a little bit on two strikes, and I think that will cut down on the strikeouts a little bit and you'll see a rise in his on-base percentage. The good thing––like I said––is that he's taking his walks. Before he got hurt this year, he was leading the league in walks. And he is still getting his walks out in the Fall League, which is very good.

So if he can just cut down those strikeouts with that two-strike approach and just shorten it up a little bit, I think you're going to see those strikeouts dwindle. But depending on where he's going to hit in the lineup next year, you're not going to want him to choke up or cut down with two strikes too much. You're going to want to see him drive the ball.

Cole: Both he and Ryan Strausborger were in their first full season, and they carried it on through the 140-game schedule, going to instructs for a little bit, and then the Arizona Fall League. How much of a factor is fatigue for those guys that hadn't played a full season before this year?

Wood: I think for Strausborger to have such a good season that he did––that was a thing that was on my mind throughout the course of the year. I really had to keep a close eye on Strausborger just because of the fact that his frame––his body frame––he could break down a little bit. He's so lean, quick, and fast-twitch that I had to keep an eye on him and try to give him as many breaks as I possibly could. I knew it was his first full season, and he's such an aggressive ballplayer. He plays with such an aggressive style that it took all I could to keep him from getting hurt, and he did a good job of that.

Now mentally, he started to falter just a little bit to where he went into a little bit of a slide offensively. But he never wanted out of the lineup, his body was in good shape, and he took care of himself the best. He was one of the best guys as far as taking care of himself. He learned his routine and he stuck with it all year.

Throughout the course of the year, he did such a good job for me that he luckily didn't really break down. There were a few bruises here and there but nothing major. So for him to get through his first full season and play as many games as he did was great. And he needed that little bit of a break before he went into the Fall League. It sounds to me––and looks like––that he just took off where he left off basically.

Cole: Strausborger's plus speed and good glove in the outfield are pretty well documented. But can you describe his game with the bat a little bit? It seems like he had a pretty good season offensively.

Wood: He did. I think one thing he needs to do a little bit more of is bunt. And I think that's something that will factor into his game a little bit more. But offensively, he has got a little bit of power that kind of surprises you. He hits the ball on the ground and gets down the line very well. He stays out of the air, which is nice.

At times, when he needs to drive the ball, he has been able to do that. What I saw that he was doing in instructional league was something that was pretty good––he was using the whole field, using the big part of the ballpark, and staying in the gaps. He actually bunted a few times, too, which was good.

Cole: You also coached with the Rangers' High-A team in 2010, when they were in Bakersfield and the California League. It's obviously known as a hitter-friendly circuit. Can you talk about the differences in the hitting environment in Myrtle Beach?

Wood: Yeah, the Carolina League is definitely a lot different league when it comes to offense as far as the California League. One of the big factors––and it's not only offensively––but breaking balls are a lot sharper in the Carolina League. I don't know if it's because of the weather or what, but balls just tend to stay up in the California League. They're not as sharp. That's something that some of these kids who I had in Bakersfield had to make that adjustment to.

And Myrtle Beach is not a ballpark––with the air and the ballpark itself you saw was pretty big––it didn't carry too well. I think I saw one ball all season actually hit the center field wall. So home runs were hit down the left field line. There weren't too many––maybe five or six home runs were hit down the right field line.

But to make up for that, we had a very fast infield. The grass was cut really low. If you put the ball on the ground there, you had a good chance of getting a hit. You just didn't get your home runs or your cheap home runs in Myrtle Beach like you did in Bakersfield or some of those ballparks in the California League. You really have to hit it to get it out in the Carolina League.

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