The Seattle Mariners may have gotten the steal of the 2013 draft when they selected Austin Wilson in the second round. The 21-year-old outfielder is a five-tool player with a world of potential. And he has a Stanford pedigree.
He is also a bit of an enigma. Wilson has never quite lived up his billing: Expectations have been sky high since he was dubbed a potential first-round pick coming out of high school. He hit .295 in three collegiate seasons, but the 6-foot-5, 245-pound right-handed hitter remains more of a work-in-progress than a burgeoning superstar.
Wilson needs to rebound from an up-and-down campaign that has some doubting his future. He missed more than a month of his junior year due to an elbow injury; and in 56 games with Seattle’s short-season affiliate, the Everett AquaSox, he hit a lackluster .242/.319/.414.
Wilson talked about his hitting approach — and his introduction to pro ball — late in the minor league season.
Wilson on adjusting to professional baseball: “The biggest adjustment was probably the speed of the game. It’s quicker than college, plus I hadn’t seen live pitching for about a month and a half. It took me a couple of weeks to get up to game speed. I started off hitting something like .080 and I’d never struggled like that in my life. I began to feel more comfortable after that, but it took me awhile to get out of that slump.
“At Stanford, on a Friday night in the Pac-12, you’ll see a good pitcher. Here, you’ll see guys like that every single day. You have guys throwing in the 90s with good off-speed. You get used to it, but when you first get out there it’s a real adjustment.
“I’d definitely say the culture is different, but it’s nothing you can’t adapt to. I’m fitting in just fine. There’s no animosity between anyone, or anything like that. It’s just people hanging out and enjoying baseball.”
On his hitting approach: “I think hitting is both an art and a science. Ideally, you figure out ways to beat the pitcher from a technological standpoint. You kind of analyze little things here and here and here. But then, once you’re in the box, it’s just you versus the pitcher. It‘s more of an art from that standpoint.
“You try to simplify hitting as much as possible. You’re trying to put the bat on the ball. When hitters are struggling, their minds are often a big factor. You want to go up there and just swing the bat. If you over-think, you’re going to be in trouble.
“I think you need to understand your mechanics — there’s a foundation to everyone’s swing — but there are some days your body feels good, and there are other days it doesn’t feel good. Maybe you don’t have your legs up there, or your hands aren’t as fast. All you can do is get in the box and compete.”
On maturing as a hitter: “In the past year and a half, I’ve probably become more aggressive. I’m taking more of that mentality. As for my mechanics, in terms of my legs and my hands, I think I’ve made my swing shorter and quicker. But I’d say the biggest thing is that I’ve become more aggressive.
“You can be aggressive and patient at the same time. It’s a matter of being smart with your aggression. Don’t go up there and hack at balls you can’t drive. If you see your pitch, put a good swing on it, and if that turns into a hit, so be it. If you’re confident and aggressive in the box — if you have confidence and a good approach — that correlates to getting on base more. At times the ball will go over the fence.”
On baseball intelligence and learning the game: “There are different things you can analyze. You’re trying to be smart, but at the same time, you don’t want to let your head get in the way. I watch the game, and I watch MLB hitters and try to correlate what they do to my own game. Just watching and observing is a key tool.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.