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Earning his wings: Bees third baseman is the Angels’ ‘can’t-miss’ prospect

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Only the most avid baseball fans may be familiar with the name Brandon Wood.

But all indications are that the 22-year-old will one day be a major-league star.

For now, he's a Salt Lake Bee.

He's one of the reasons the Bees feel they will be strong enough during the 2007 season to compete, once again, for a Pacific Coast League division title — and perhaps even for the PCL championship. The defending Pacific North Division champs started their quest to repeat on Thursday night at Franklin Covey Field.

While the Bees have many outstanding baseball players who are just one step from the majors, Wood is considered one of those "can't miss" prospects. He's a "five-tool" guy who can hit for average and power, can steal a base when necessary, has a strong arm and above-average defensive skills.

"He's got great makeup and is a very hard worker," said Bees manager Brian Harper of his prized pupil. "He has integrity off the field, too. On the field, he has good hands defensively. He's got quick hands offensively and he's got a natural loft to his swing that allows him to hit some home runs."

For those reasons, Wood has been named the No. 1 prospect in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim's minor-league system for two years running. In 2005, he ripped 43 homers, drove in 115 runs and hit .321 for Rancho Cucamonga — earning him the Sporting News' Minor League Baseball Player of the Year award.

Last season, at Double-A Arkansas, Wood had another solid season. He hit .276 with 25 homers and 83 RBIs. He also stole 19 bases in 22 attempts.

Now Wood, who played 42 games for the Provo Angels in 2003, is one step closer to his ultimate goal. But he'll be playing at a new position. He's been a shortstop his entire career but was switched to third base by the Angels during spring training. So, at the Angels' request, Wood will primarily play third for the Bees.

"He took to it like it was no big deal," said Harper of Wood's position switch. "He's been playing great during spring training at third base. From Day 1, he looked like a natural over there at third."

That doesn't mean he isn't a capable shortstop, however

"He could be a shortstop in the big leagues," said Harper. "But for the Angels' situation, they decided to try him at third."

For his part, Wood is willing to play whatever position will get him to the majors faster.

"It's going well at third," said Wood, who was born in Texas and who went to high school in Scottsdale, Ariz., before being selected in the first round of the 2003 draft. "(Playing third) is opening up a bigger window for me to make my ultimate goal of getting to the big leagues. I'm still learning about playing third every day, but then again, I was still learning about playing short and I'd been playing there since I was 12."

While being a Bee is not Wood's ultimate goal, that doesn't mean he's upset about being in Salt Lake. Quite the contrary, actually.

"This is exciting for me — moving a level up," said Wood. "It's one step closer to the big leagues. We have a great group of guys here and Harp as a manager — it's going to be great. I played for Harp for awhile in the rookie league and it was fun."

If there is a knock on Wood (pun intended), it's that he strikes out too often. His 149 strikeouts last season led the Texas League. To that end, Wood knows he has some work to do to show Angels manager Mike Scioscia that he's ready for "The Show."

"I need to mature at the plate," Wood said. "I need to become a more consistent hitter and work on my two-strike approach and cut down my strikeouts."

While Harper fully expects Wood will eventually get to the call up to the majors, he knows that his stint with Salt Lake will teach him a few things.

"The Triple-A level is different because he'll be playing against veteran players that have more experience," said Harper. "Double-A is usually a younger league with guys just coming up. In Triple-A, you will see some veteran guys with major league experience who know how to make adjustments. It will be a good learning experience for him."

Wood hasn't been made any promises about getting called up to the Angels, so he may be with the Bees all season. Or he could be like last year's Bees star Howie Kendrick, who got called up midseason and now is firmly entrenched as L.A.'s starting second baseman.

"Whether you get called up, get moved down or stay at the same level all year, it's all out of your control as a player," said Wood. "You just have to play the game hard between the lines. My thought process is that if I do that, everything else will take care of itself and I'll be where I need to be."

E-mail: lojo@desnews.com