By The Baseball Beginnings Guy
February 25, 2013
Austin Wilson is a guy I have seen quite a bit of over the past few seasons. Here’s a look at some Spring 2012 and Summer 2012 video and my thoughts after. I should preface this by saying that I wrote this before he got hurt this season — so we’ll see what impact that medical has on his draft year.
I have growing concerns about Wilson’s ability to make consistent contact. Despite the numbers he has put up, I feel like I am watching a guy who has not learned anything about how to become a professional hitter since he left high school. I know this must be a disconcerting statement, espescially because I am aware of how dilligently he studies his own video. But at some point, enough is enough, and you need to start seeing adjustments.
I don’t think Wilson has any idea of what kind of hitter he is. I think he knows what we all know — he’s got 80 raw power. In other words, he can hit a baseball 500 feet. To be honest, I won’t give any amateur hitter 80 raw anymore. I will go as high as 70 and I will tell you why. I have said this before — but I covered the Angels and every day I would watch Vladimir Guerrero in BP going 500 feet plus to straight away center. That, kids, is 80 raw.
So Wilson has raw power and that is his calling card. I’ve seen enough BPs of him over the years to know that’s what he does, but at some point, he has to prove that he can hit. Otherwise, we’re talking about a guy who profiles as a major leaguer with huge strikeout numbers and low batting averages. Yes, if you throw the ball where he swings the bat, he will crush it. But that window tends to tighten up drastically more in the big leagues than in the Pac-12. Right now, Wilson will do fine right about up until the time he gets to Double-A. Then it’ll be up-and-down between Triple-A and the big leagues, burning options and breaking bats, until he catches up and learns better what he should have learned younger.
I always believed Wilson should have signed out of high school. I always did. It had nothing to do with draft money. It had everything to do with training his hands and eyes as fervently as he trains his body. He needed at-bats, he needed pitching, he needed wood bats, he needed instruction to learn what he needed to improve on sooner rather than later. There is a tremendous difference between learning what you need to correct at age 18 in pro ball and learning what you need to correct at age 21 in pro ball. There will come a time in pro ball when they stop caring about how good he looks in a uniform. Body type alone is not going to get this done in the majors. Hand-eye will. And right now, it’s not there. Oh, it’s there enough to fool the Pac-12, to get paid well in the draft, and to get through the minors with good numbers. But this bill will come due in the majors, and that inability to get that top hand to do what it needs to do, in conjunction with his eyes, is going to burn him because he has not developed this early enough. This will have consequences in pro ball, and I think I’m seeing the first signs of that now. I don’t think he’s gone backwards as a hitter in college. I just don’t think he’s gone forward. I think it’s going to catch up to him. Right now he looks like a player who is going to struggle into his late 20s trying to define an every day role, not as a guy who is going to follow the Posey or Braun career path from college to the majors. Maybe I’m wrong, and probably a lot of people who have not seen Wilson play as many innings and as many years as I have might not agree. But even Reggie Jackson figured out how to hit .300 in the majors one year.
Over the past few years with Wilson, I have seen too many pitches he just has not squared up. He’s late. The hand-eye isn’t quite there consistently for whatever reason — at least not for me — because I have lots of check swings I edited out, which makes me wary that there are pitch identification and recognition issues here. If you are not consistently seeing spin, rotation and movement, there is always going to be a disconnect between what your talent says you should be able to do and what the at-bats end up looking like.
Trust me, I’d like to sit here and say, yes, I love this guy — but this is how the pro business works — if people are going to spend a ton of money, they are going to ask harder questions, questions like the ones I am asking, and not offer puff piece scouting. Trust me on that one. Right now, ask me to pick Wilson or Bryant, I’m taking Bryant, even if he doesn’t have a position.
The second question is one of approach. To me, he looks like a guy who is aggressive when he needs to be selective and selective when he needs to be aggressive. This stems from inexperience and reflects a lack of offensive confidence. It can also come from too many years of too many coaches telling a guy when to swing and when to take. Some guys forget how to be aggressive in the cookie cutter world we live in.
It actually breaks my heart to write a lot of this, but I’m about the only guy who’s going to say it before he gets to pro ball. A shrewd player would be wise to heed my advice. All this draft hoopla, the chance of being a top five pick based solely on the raw power potential, is not enough to assure that he has what it takes to become what has always been predicted for him — a dominant major league run producer. I know my share of ballplayers, and I know my share of scouts, and when I hear the same things over and over — the same worries, the same, “He can’t hit but if he ever gets it, look out,” type sentiment, I know I’m not alone. I’m just the only one who can say it out loud.
He needs to be a guy who finds a way to become comfortable, because Wilson ALWAYS looks uncomfortable at the plate — ALWAYS tinkering, ALWAYS toying. But what he has to do is figure out what he is, who he is, how he will do it, and sink or swim with that. He needs to seriously ignore the people who kiss his ass because he can hit a ball 500 feet in BP. And until he does, I’m afraid he’s always going to be in a funk.
Wilson’s power is a curse for him. I’ll tell you why. Because he’s never going to get the time he needs to develop. He’s held up as this guy with this massive power, but I don’t think he wants to be seen as a strongback. I think that insults his intelligence. But I also think he needs to take a step back and forget his name is Austin Wilson. His name ain’t Rod Carew, either. But it shouldn’t be Rob Deer (Brewers references are because my late Mom is from Milwaukee, don’t get any other ideas). Perhaps he settles into a nice little career as an annual 20 home run, 80 RBI, .220 hitting kind of guy. OK, it will pay the bills and buy the house. It would be considered a good draft pick. But the worst part about it is that it would be considered an underachivement. Anyone who reads me and knows me knows that I believe the worst fate you can have as a ballplayer is to underachieve what everyone knows you can be.