Sunday Notes: Giants Prospect Will Wilson Remains a Work in Progress

Will Wilson has received mixed reviews since he was drafted 15th overall by the Los Angeles Angels out of North Carolina State University in 2019. He’s also changed organizations. The 23-year-old (as of earlier this week) shortstop was traded to San Francisco that same winter as part of a budget-driven deal centered around the contract of Zack Cozart. With just 46 professional games under his belt, Wilson came into the current campaign No. 11 on our Giants Top Prospects list.

The mixed reviews have included assessments that begged for clarification.

When I spoke with Wilson a week ago, I shared that I’d read that his swing is short, and also that it has changed. I’d also seen that he doesn’t project to hit for power, yet he’d put up solid home run numbers in college. Moreover, he already has double-digit dingers this season between High-A Eugene and Double-A Richmond.

Could he share his thoughts on the above?

“A lot of the projection stuff is up to interpretation,” replied Wilson, who received his promotion on July 6. “I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of hitting for power. I hit a lot of doubles, and I’ve hit more home runs than I think a lot of people have projected. That’s always a good thing.”

Asked why he’s shown more power than many expected, the Kings Mountain, North Carolina native provided a rock solid — if not somewhat unexpected — answer.

“In this day and age of baseball, sometimes guys with shorter arms, like the [Alex] Bregmans and [Jose] Altuves, who have strong wrists and forearms, hit for more power than projected,” the 6-foot, 184-pound infielder told me. “I kind of fit into that demographic: a smaller, quicker twitch, stronger-hands guy. My short swing allows for a little more pop than anticipated.”

As is my wont, I requested elaboration. When did the added pop manifest itself?

“Through my freshman and sophomore years at NC State, I kind of saw a little bit of the weight room translate onto the baseball field,” said Wilson, whose home run totals with the Wolfpack rose from eight to 15 to 16. “That’s when my power, with my hands and wrists, kind of took off for me. And I have made some swing adjustments, too.

“Last year, I went through the whole launch angle, swing up, contact-point adjustment,” continued Wilson. “That ended up not working out for me, so I kind of went back to being more of a direct, contact-type hitter. There were some strikeout numbers in the past, including at the alt site last year and a little bit early on this year. Being more direct is just how my swing plays, so it’s kind of a back-and-forth for me on making that adjustment.”

I asked the former first-rounder if the swing he’d tinkered with had made his right-handed stroke less short and direct to the ball.

“I do think it made it a little bit longer,” affirmed Wilson. “A lot of guys nowadays, with the high spin rates and carry up in the zone… it was tough for me to process where I needed to hit the ball — what contact point I needed to meet it with — when I was being less direct. I thought I lost a little bit of power, and I definitely lost more contact. Against those guys, I went back to the more-direct swing I had in college.”

Wilson doesn’t believe that being more direct and letting the ball travel go hand-in-hand, but he does feel the former makes the latter a little easier. At the same time, it’s not something he strives for. He’s well aware that hitters typically do more damage when they hit the ball out front.

He is likewise aware that he’s done less damage since reaching Double-A.

“Numbers-wise, yes,” stated Wilson, who is slashing .214/.286/.343 with the Flying Squirrels. “But my hard-hit percentages have been pretty good since I’ve been here. Right now I’m not the luckiest guy in the world when it comes to getting hits, but I am getting into good counts and putting on some good swings. So I can’t be too frustrated with the numbers, especially when it’s only 50-something at bats.”

It’s been a mixed bag for Wilson since we spoke last Saturday. He’s gone 9 for 28 with two doubles, two home runs, and three walks, but he’s also fanned 11 times. Factor in his .242/.326/.457 slash line on the season — he’s gone deep 12 times — and Wilson’s reviews remain largely the same. Maybe with more projectable power.

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

A.J. Pierzynski went 2 for 20 against Johan Santana.

Angel Berroa went 4 for 40 against CC Sabathia.

Dayan Viciedo went 1 for 5 against C.C. Lee.

Joe Mauer went 4 for 31 against C.J. Wilson.

Dan Uggla went 1 for 26 against R.A. Dickey.

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Ryan Tapani is hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps. And for good reason. Kevin Tapani pitched in the big leagues from 1989-2001, almost exclusively as a starter, and he was a huge contributor to the Minnesota Twins’ 1991 championship squad. The right-hander from Escanaba, Michigan went 16-9, 2.99 during the regular season, then out-pitched Atlanta’s Tom Glavine in a 3-2 Twins win in Game 2 of the World Series.

Ryan Tapani, who was born in 1994, is currently pitching for the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. A 21st-round pick three years ago out of Creighton University, the aspiring big-leaguer — born and raised in suburban Minneapolis — is a right-hander himself.

Asked if he and his father are carbon copies on the mound, the youngster pointed to both similarities and differences.

“First, it’s tough to compare yourself to someone who played in the league that long when you’re still trying to get there,” Tapani told me on Thursday. “I think our deliveries somewhat similar, but there are a few things he did differently that I can’t do [such as] cues and checkpoints. He went over his head and stepped behind, and I like to keep my hands in front to minimize movement. The arm action is pretty similar. We throw mostly the same pitches. Fastball is the same. Split, we grip the same way. I spike my curveball and I don’t think he spiked his. He threw a changeup and a cutter, as well. My cutter is different from his.”

Kevin Tapani was the starting quarterback for Escanaba when the Upper Peninsula school won the MHSAA Class-A football championship in 1981. His progeny’s best secondary sport was hockey.

How talented was the younger Tapani on the ice?

“I was all right,.” said Tapani, who stressed that baseball was clearly his best sport. “I didn’t play in a huge conference. Minnesota hockey is good compared to the rest of the country. A lot of guys go on to play at pretty high levels, and I wasn’t good enough to play college hockey, or anything like that. I just enjoyed going out there and strapping up the skates.”

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A quiz:

Hank Aaron has the most hits, singles, doubles, and home runs in Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves history. Who is the franchise’s all-time leader in triples?

The answer can be found below.

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NEWS ITEMS

Baseball America reported this week that the Arizona Fall League will be returning this year, with games slated to start on October 13. The news came with a caveat: COVID trends will impact whether things go forward as planned.

The St. Louis Cardinals announced on Wednesday that they will honor Lou Brock and Bob Gibson in separate pre-game ceremonies next month. “Lou Brock Night” will take place at Busch Stadium on August 20, while “Bob Gibson Day” will he held two days later.

Benny Looper died earlier this week at age 72. A catcher in the St. Louis Cardinals system from 1968-1972, Looper — the father of former big-league pitchers Aaron and Braden Looper — was more recently an assistant GM and Special Advisor for the Philadelphia Phillies.

Retrosheet announced its summer 2021 updates earlier this week, including how they now have play-by-play accounts for all American League and National League games from 1926-2020. Info can be found here.

Per ESPN Stats and Info, Thursday’s defeat marked the first time in Dodgers franchise history that they’d lost three straight games in which they’d led going into the ninth inning. (As a matter of clarification, it wasn’t three consecutive games, but rather games in which they entered the ninth with a lead.)

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The answer to the quiz is Rabbit Maranville, with 103 triples. Aaron ranks second, with 98.

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Who Was Better, J.D. Drew or Kirk Gibson?

I asked that question in a Twitter poll a few days ago, and the results were more or less what I expected. Which isn’t to say I agree with them. Gibson received 60% of the votes cast, while Drew garnered the remaining 40%.

With the caveat that “better” is somewhat subjective, here are some numbers:

Drew: 46.0 WAR, 128 wRC+, .378 wOBA, 1,427 hits, 242 home runs.

Gibson: 35.9 WAR, 123 wRC+, .358 wOBA, 1,553 hits, 255 home runs.

Did Gibson come out ahead in this poll because he hit a famous World Series home run and was known for his all-out effort, while Drew was often portrayed — perhaps unfairly — as an injury-prone player who didn’t give full effort?

No disrespect to Gibson, but in my opinion, Drew was the better player.

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Damon Jones — featured in this past week’s installment of the Learning and Developing a Pitch series— had never been to Fenway Park prior to two Sundays ago. Called up by the Philadelphia Phillies when three of the team’s pitchers went on the COVID list, the 26-year-old left-hander took a 5 a.m. shuttle from Allentown, then a 7:50 a.m. flight to Boston. Bleary eyes and all, he cherished not only a potential big-league debut, but also the venue where it would have happened.

Before that afternoon’s game, Jones and fellow call-up JD Hammer went inside the Green Monster and, like many players before them, signed their names.

“I’ll hold that memory forever,” Jones told me after emerging from Monster and returning to the visiting dugout. “I grew up in Idaho, which is in the middle of nowhere, so I didn’t have a team around there to root for. My dad was a Red Sox fan for some reason, and I really enjoyed watching them on TV, so it’s pretty surreal just to be here.”

The surreal feeling didn’t extend to climbing the Fenway Park mound. Jones didn’t pitch that day, nor did he get an opportunity before he was optioned back to Triple-A. His MLB debut remains on hold.

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FARM REPORT

Thursday’s Dominican Summer League game between the Mariners and Yankees was tied 16-16 after nine inning, and then things got even crazier. The final score was 22-21, in ten innings. (Hat tip to Baseball America’s JJ Cooper for bringing this to my attention.)

Warming Bernabel is slashing .436/.462/.691 in 65 plate appearances with Colorado’s Arizona Complex team. A 19-year-old third baseman, Bernabel is a native of Bani, Dominican Republic.

Edouard Julien has drawn 69 walks, the most in the minors. A 22-year-old infielder currently with the Cedar Rapids Kernels (Twins High-A), Julien is slashing .265/.446/.442 on the season.

Brett Cumberland has reached via HBP 24 times, the most in the minors. A 26-year-old catcher currently with the Norfolk Tides (Orioles Triple-A), Cumberland is slashing .209/.383/.390 on the season.

Austin Shenton has 28 doubles, the most in the minors. A 23-year-old third baseman currently with the Arkansas Travelers (Mariners Double-A), Shenton is slashing .296/.413/.561 on the season.

Tekoah Roby has a 2.45 ERA to go with 35 strikeouts in 22 innings with the Down East Wood Ducks (Rangers Low-A). A 19-year-old right-hander, Roby was drafted by Texas in the 3rd round last year out of a Pensacola, Florida high school.

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Cleveland’s baseball team announced its new name on Friday. The “Indians” since 1915, they will known be the “Guardians” beginning next season. Count me among those who like the moniker, although I found “Spiders” to be an appealing option, as well. Not that history suggests the latter was a great idea. The Cleveland Spiders — a franchise separate from the soon-to-be-erstwhile Indians — existed from 1887-1899 (originally as the Blues) and to say things didn’t end well would be an understatement. The 1899 Spiders lost 40 of their last 41 games and finished with a record of 20-134.

As for the Guardians, again, the name is a good one. The new logo? I’m not a fan.

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The National Baseball Hall of Fame honored the 2020 and 2021 recipients of the Ford C. Frick Award, and the BBWAA Career Excellence Award, yesterday in Cooperstown. Notable among the honorees was former Boston Globe sportswriter Nick Cafardo, who died unexpectedly while covering Red Sox spring training in February 2019. Cafardo’s three decades with the Globe included penning the paper’s Sunday Baseball Notes column, which was popularized by Peter Gammons and is now authored by Peter Abraham. A strong influence on the column you are currently reading, it remains a Sunday staple.

In this writer’s opinion, Cafardo was an ideal recipient of the BBWAA Career Excellence Award. Augmenting his longstanding dedication were a true love of the game and the utmost respect for those who make it their livelihoods. Never about hot takes and clicks, Cafardo was the consummate professional. Not everyone bestowed with this award has been fully deserving. Cafardo certainly was.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Hamtramck Stadium — the home of the Negro League’s Detroit Stars in the 1930s — is undergoing a $2.6M renovation, thanks in part to an $850,000 grant. Steve Neavling has the details at The Metro Times.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey shared how Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings is a strong Gold Glove candidate.

Beyond the Boxscore’s Randy Holt wrote about how the Cardinals’ offense is truly offensive.

Covering the Corner’s Merritt Rohlfing wrote about how Franmil Reyes has adjusted to the slider.

Living conditions in the minor leagues are anything but easy, and according to current and former players in the Los Angeles Angels organization, their situations are worse than many. Joon Lee has the story at ESPN.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The Red Sox are the only team in MLB with a winning record (24-23) when allowing the first run of the game. (Per @BillyBall.)

Jon Lester at the plate 2006-2016: .064/.119/.083 with no HR in 189 PAs.
Jon Lester at the plate 2017-2021: .153/.191/.243 with four HR in 212 PAs.

Mo Vaughn had 1,620 career hits and a .293/.383/.523 slash line. As of this past Tuesday, Freddie Freeman had 1,620 hits and a .294/.383/.509 slash line.

Cleveland went a combined 75-13 against Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington in 1954.

Ed Hock had one hit in 10 big-league at bats, a pinch-single off Hall of Famer Pete Alexander while with the Cincinnati Reds in 1924. An infielder who played professionally from 1920-1942, Hock logged 3,474 hits in the minors.

Walter Davis, an outfielder/first baseman/pitcher in the Negro Leagues from 1920-1935 was nicknamed “Steel Arm.” Davis’s spent his final season with the Chicago American Giants and was later shot and killed in a barroom fight.

Players born on today’s date include Larry Sherry, who culminated his rookie season with the Los Angeles Dodgers by earning two wins and two saves in the 1959 World Series. Sherry’s regular-season career mark included 53 wins, 82 saves, and a 3.82 ERA.

Also born on this date was Joe Zapustas, whose career comprised two games with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1933. An outfielder who recorded one hit in five at bats, Zapustas is the only Latvia-born player in big-league history.

Sad Sam Jones — born on July 26, 1882 — went 229-217 while pitching for half a dozen teams from 1914-1935. According to Jim Passon and Jeremy Frank’s Hidden Ball Trick: The Baseball Stats You Never Thought To Look For, Jones lost six times on his birthday.

On July 28, 1931, Bob “Fats” Fothergill homered and tripled in an 11-run eighth inning as the Chicago White Sox beat the New York Yankees 13-12. The win — the only one of his career — went to Holstein, Iowa native Biggs Wehde.





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.

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dl80
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dl80

Alternate title: Will Will Wilson Will Himself to the Big Leagues?

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

I personally love it, but corporate says you’re fired anyway.