Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Jason Wood

STOCKTON, Calif. – Former Florida Marlins infielder Jason Wood is in his second season as the hitting coach at High-A Bakersfield, and Lone Star Dugout recently sat down with him to discuss some of the club's top hitting prospects.

Jason Cole: You were able to work with Engel Beltre last year as well as this year. How has his game developed during that time?

Jason Wood: I think Engel––one thing he has gotten better at is that he's gotten more comfortable with his body. He has gotten a little bit bigger this year. He seems a little bit more comfortable. We're tinkering with a few things as far as his hands. We're trying to get his hands a little quieter.

But it's basically just pitch selection for him. It has been a problem in the past, and we're trying to tone that down a little bit. We don't want him to get too big during the course of his swing––stay short. Obviously we want him to work on his on-base percentage.

Cole: Has the pitch selection improved over the last year?

Wood: Yeah, I've seen a big difference, especially in Spring Training. He had a really good spring. I was hoping he'd carry that into the season, but he got out of it for a little bit. He's getting back into it now. He is seeing more pitches, and that's the key ingredient for him.

We're tracking all the pitches he sees per night and per at-bat. A big thing for him is that we're mixing him into a few different spots in the lineup so we can get him comfortable. Like I said, we really want him working on that on-base percentage and seeing more pitches.

Cole: One of the things I noticed this spring was that he was really starting to incorporate that speed into his game more often. Do you feel that's the case?

Wood: That's a whole thing with him, too––confidence. Once he stands in there and slows everything down. Engel is such a young kid that really wants to go out and do a lot of things. With his athleticism, if he can do the right things, it'll take over. We work on the bunting on a daily basis, whether it's a drag bunt or he takes a bunt with him.

One thing he has to realize is that if he puts that ball on the ground, he can do a lot of damage. That's one thing we're trying to pound into his head instead of hitting the ball in the air. Whatever you can do to hit the ball on the ground. If he hits balls to shortstop or takes bunts with him, there's a good chance he can beat the ball out. So that's his game and he needs to know what that is and to stay on the ground with it.

Cole: In Spring Training, it seemed to me that David Paisano was using more of a leg kick than in the past. And now that seems to be gone.

Wood: David did have a leg kick. Right now, he is opened up a little bit. His biggest thing is just getting to square––where his shoulders and his front side are lined up with that pitcher. Sometimes he gets out of whack just a little bit, to where he comes in and his front side kind of moves open a little bit.

We're trying to get him to square, shorten up that leg kick a little bit, and get his hands back to a comfortable position to attack the baseball. He's been doing a really good job. His on-base percentage is so good right now. We're just trying to tone that down, in a sense, and get him where he needs to be.

Cole: Paisano got to play quite a bit of winterball this offseason, and he even got a lot of playing time during the postseason. How big of a help do you think that was to his overall game?

Wood: He came into Spring Training with a whole lot of confidence. He's aggressive on the base paths this year. Just by being on base for him––it really helps out. He played in Venezuela, and playing with that experience down there is just unmatched. There's great players down there, especially when you play later in the winter. You play against some great competition.

I think he has shown some improvement. His pitch selection has been a lot better. But his confidence––that's the big thing. His confidence level this year is a lot better. It is really showing, and I'm really proud of him right now.

Cole: Tom Mendonca is a player everyone knew would have to make adjustments once he got into professional baseball. What kind of changes is he having to make?

Wood: Tommy is basically learning the professional game itself. It's not a college game anymore. He's seeing really good pitching night-in and night-out. It's a matter of honing him in and getting him in a comfortable swinging situation––just pounding the zone with him. Keeping him in the zone and throughout the zone. It's a work in progress, and we're taking our best effort for that.

Cole: Mike Bianucci dominated in Low-A ball last year, but he struggled to make contact once he got up here. What does he have to do to take that next step?

Wood: I think the big thing for Mike is to be a little more stable in the outfield. He needs to really work on his skills in the outfield––in left field and also in right field. He just needs to try and stay as consistent as he possibly can with his plate appearances and his on-base percentage too. Because we all know he's going to bop the ball out of the yard––he just has so much power. But if he could stay consistent with that and put a little more effort into that outfield work, I think we'll be okay. He's on the right track.

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