Wood promoted to Double-A, Doolittle solid in rehab debut

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Nationals’ top prospect is moving one step closer to the major leagues.

James Wood has been promoted from High-A Wilmington to Double-A Harrisburg, a source familiar with the move confirmed. The 20-year-old outfielder is slated to join the Senators for this evening’s series finale at Reading, then continue with them on this week’s road trip to Bowie.

Wood, one of the five prospects acquired from the Padres in last summer’s Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade, had more than proven his ability in 42 games with Wilmington, batting .293 with nine doubles, five triples, eight homers, 36 RBIs, eight stolen bases, a .392 on-base percentage and a .972 OPS.

“When he hits the ball, he hits it hard,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And he’s walking, so that’s a good sign. They felt like this was the time to move him up, and he definitely deserved a shot to go up to Double-A.”

A 6-foot-6, 240-pound physical specimen, Wood entered the season as one of baseball’s top-rated prospects, ranking as high as No. 3 in the sport by Baseball Prospectus. A second-round pick of the Padres in 2021, he has made a steady climb up the prospect ladder and was already considered by many to be the best player the Nationals received in last summer’s blockbuster trade.

The Nats as an organization tend to make in-season promotions in June or early July, essentially at the halfway point of the minor league season. That they are promoting Wood to Double-A now suggests how highly they think of him, and also suggests his time frame for reaching the major leagues may not be that far off.

“For me, it’s all about development for our young players,” Martinez said. “He’s still really young, he’s learning a lot. I’d like to see him play all three outfield positions, because you never know what the need will be here when he gets here. Hopefully, he goes down there and plays all three. But he’s going to be a good one. He’s learning a lot, and he’s getting better.”

The Washington Post was first to report Wood’s promotion.

* Sean Doolittle made his 2023 game debut Saturday night, pitching a scoreless inning of relief for Wilmington.

Doolittle, who last pitched in a competitive game in April 2022 and had elbow surgery in July, allowed a leadoff double but followed that up with back-to-back strikeouts and then a flyout to end a scoreless seventh inning. He threw 17 pitches, 11 strikes, with a fastball that registered 92 mph, according to Martinez.

“He struck out a guy on a slider, which is good because we talked about him using a secondary pitch,” Martinez said. “I’m curious to see how he feels today, but everything is going well so far.”

Doolittle is scheduled to return to the mound Tuesday and will likely pitch every other day for now, eventually pitching back-to-back days. Martinez suggested the veteran lefty would need to pitch in at least seven or eight games before the Nationals will consider if he’s ready to return to the majors. He’s still on a minor league contract, so he’s technically on the injured list at Triple-A Rochester.

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