MiLB.com staff combed through decades of stats to uncover Minor League hitting and pitching leaders among players active for at least one season in the 21st century. This is the first installment of a new series called "Modern marvels."
It’s been 12 years since Jason Wood stepped to the plate in a professional game, but nobody in the interim has come close to him in the Minor League hits column.
Wood amassed 1,840 knocks over 1,890 Minors games in a career that began in 1991 and spanned 17 seasons with eight different clubs.
“I would say if there was one word to describe my career, it’s perseverance,” said Wood, now the infield coordinator for the San Francisco Giants. “And after all these years, it’s nice to still be recognized for that.”
Perseverance … and health. Throughout his playing days, Wood never missed an extended stretch with injury or illness. He appeared in at least 100 games 12 times and at least 120 games eight times.
“I really credit the prep work I did in the offseasons and the routines I developed for my longevity,” he said. “But you don’t get to do any of that stuff successfully unless you put in the work. And that work allowed you to grow as a player and develop strict routines … mentally and physically. I had to learn my own swing, and know it -- where my advantages and disadvantages were, figuring out what I could and couldn’t do well. It all played a part in staying on the field and sustaining success.”
An 11th-round selection of the A’s in the 1991 Draft, Wood debuted with Class A Short Season Southern Oregon. The native of San Bernardino, California, batted .310 in 44 Northwest League games and was promoted to Class A Advanced Modesto the following season. In the California League, Wood experienced the worst slump of his career. It got so bad that he questioned whether staying in baseball was realistic for him.
“I remember that ... was a real slow start, and the 0-fers kept adding up, and I kept thinking I was going to be cut or released the next day,” he said. “I got to 0-for-31 before I snapped the skid, and then I was able to manage myself through it from there.”
The Fresno State product went on to play 1,713 games at the upper levels of the Minors, spending 13 seasons predominantly at Triple-A. He was named a Southern League All-Star with Huntsville in 1994 and had his best season with Triple-A Edmonton in 1997, batting .321/.383/.531 while leading the Trappers to a Pacific Coast League title and earning a postseason All-Star nod.
“We had such a good group of guys that year. The success just became contagious,” he said. “I also remember I had the best game of my career that season. I went 6-for-6 with a few RBIs. I’ll never forget that.”
Wood reached The Show with Oakland on April 1, 1998. He played in the bigs in parts of five seasons with the A’s, Tigers and Marlins, amassing 49 hits -- including five home runs -- over 153 games. The infielder finished his career with his fifth season at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2008 before transitioning to the coaching ranks. Wood retired with 180 homers, 39 triples, 373 doubles, 1,021 RBIs, 993 runs and a .271/.339/.418 slash line in the Minors.
Here are some recent players who got within shouting distance of Wood's hit total over the course of their respective careers.
Pedro Swann (1,809 hits from 1991-2007): The 1991 26th-rounder of the Braves spent 10 seasons in the Minors before making his Major League debut with Atlanta at age 29. In all, Swann played 17 Minor League seasons in six different organizations. The Delaware State product collected more than 100 hits in 12 of 15 full seasons -- eclipsing 120 hits seven times.
Jason Bourgeois (1,763 hits from 2000-17): The highly touted shortstop out of Forest Brook High School in Texas was selected by the Rangers in the second round of the 2000 Draft and spent time with 10 organizations (Rangers, Braves, Mariners, White Sox, Brewers, Astros, Royals, Rays, Red and D-backs) over his 18-year pro career. Bourgeois made his Major League debut with the White Sox on Sept. 9, 2008 and was the last player to get his first big league knock at the old Yankee Stadium.
Mike Hessman (1,758 hits from 1996-2015): Known as a slugger throughout a career that included 19 Minor League seasons, Hessman bashed nearly half of his Minors hits for extra bases: 861. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder set the affiliated Minor League home run record on Aug. 3, 2015, when he clubbed his 433rd career dinger -- a grand slam -- while playing for Triple-A Toledo at age 37. The blast broke the mark Buzz Artlett set in 1937.
Mike Cervenak (1,720 hits from 2000-13): With the exception of a 10-game stint with the Phillies in 2008, Cervenak was a career Minor Leaguer. He posted more hits than games played in 10 of his 14 seasons. The Michigan product won the Minors Triple Crown in 2004 with a combined .328 average, 26 homers and 98 RBIs across two levels. In 2008, Cervenak compiled a franchise-record 18-game hitting streak for Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Raul Gonzalez (1,707 hits from 1991-2008): If you count the 334 hits Gonzalez accumulated in the Mexican League, his total actually puts him on top of this list, with 2,041 knocks. Setting aside his accomplishments in Mexico, winter ball and independent leagues, the native of Puerto Rico played in 17 affiliated seasons. During that time, Gonzalez collected at least 124 hits in six separate campaigns and eclipsed the 100-hit mark 11 times. His most impressive year was 1999, when he batted .335 and amassed 169 hits over 127 games for Double-A Trenton.
Scott McClain (1,684 hits from 1990-2009): A two-star athlete in high school, the native of Atascadero, California, signed a letter of intent to play football for the University of Southern California before being selected by the Orioles in the 22nd round of the 1990 Draft and opting to report to the Appalachian League. McClain’s career spanned 20 seasons -- 12 of which were spent in the upper levels of the Minors. Known for his power, the first baseman clubbed 292 homers and drove in 1,115 runs in 1,783 games.
Irving Falu (1,679 hits from 2003-18): The 37-year-old Puerto Rico-born infielder appeared in a Minor League game as recently as 2018, posting a .276/.337/.360 slash line with 105 hits in 108 games for Triple-A Syracuse. It was Falu’s 16th season in the Minors and ninth finishing with a batting average above .270. The product of Iowa's Indian Hills Community College was a four-time MiLB.com Organization All-Star.
Ernie Young (1,655 hits from 1990-2007): Young made his Major League debut four years after the A's took him in the 10th round of the 1990 Draft, and he spent the entire 1996 season in the bigs. After that campaign, Young totaled 110 games in The Show with five clubs over five seasons. But he made the most of his time in the Minors in his 18-year career, playing all or parts of 12 seasons at the Triple-A level and compiling more hits than games played seven times in that span. Young also etched himself into Oakland lore on April 7, 1996, when the Lewis University product made a sensational catch at the warning track in center field and began the sixth triple play in franchise history.
Joe Thurston (1,653 hits from 1999-2013): After being drafted by the Dodgers in the fourth round in 1999, Thurston quickly turned himself into a top-10 prospect in the system. In 2002, he was named Los Angeles' Minor League Player of the Year, batting .334/.372/.506 with 196 hits and 106 runs scored over 136 games for Triple-A Las Vegas. All told, he played for nine different organizations over the course 13 seasons in the Minors. The California native spent his final two years in baseball in the Mexican League, where he amassed 215 hits for three different clubs.
Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobTnova24.