Justin Wilson was drafted in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, signing later in the summer after leading Fresno State to a College World Series championship. Wilson helped clinch the title, pitching eight innings and allowing one run with nine strikeouts in the Championship game.
Wilson used his success last year to demand a higher signing bonus, although he ended up settling for $195 K, which was $2000 under slot, a few days before the signing deadline. Due to the holdout of sorts, Wilson didn’t pitch at all last season for the Pirates.
Wilson started his career this season in high A with Lynchburg, and has a 4.50 ERA in 102 innings pitched, with an 83:48 K/BB ratio thus far. He’s recently started to see more success, with a 1.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and a 35:20 K/BB ratio over 43.1 innings pitched in his last eight starts, including six straight starts with zero or one runs.
Baseball America, who ranked Wilson the 29th best prospect in the Pirates’ system before the season, says that Wilson struggled to command his four pitch arsenal in college. He has a fastball with good life, that usually sits in the high 80s, but has reached as high as 93. He also throws a sharp breaking curveball, and a slider with less break, and struggled with a changeup before this season. From reports I’ve received in Lynchburg, Wilson tries to overpower hitters, which can sometimes make him a bit wild.
The start Wilson made on Sunday was by far his best of the season, pitching seven shutout innings, with five hits allowed, no walks, and 11 strikeouts. I didn’t get any radar gun information on Wilson, so it’s hard to say if he was trying to over power hitters with the fastball. Based on what I saw, he was focused more on smart pitching, mixing up his pitches, getting batters out with tricky breaking pitches, and occasionally blowing a fastball by a batter who was looking for a slower paced breaking ball.
One start doesn’t make a career, but in this start (the only one I’ve seen Wilson make), I saw three things that suggest that Wilson can be an effective pitcher:
1. He has some good breaking stuff
2. He mixes up his pitches well.
3. He throws strikes.
I didn’t get video on every pitch he threw (I missed the first inning, where he recorded three strikeouts), but I did get three full innings, plus two slow motion shots at the end of the playlist below.
I’m not sure if I’ll get to see Wilson pitch again this season, and he could be on his way to Altoona next year. This one start suggests that his recent success has been no fluke. If this is how he’s been pitching for the last month and a half, then I can see why he has had so much success. I didn’t see Wilson try to overpower hitters as much in this start, although despite his success he does have a 4.95 BB/9 ratio in his previous seven starts before Sunday’s outing.
That raises a big question: was this outing a fluke, or was it an example of how good Wilson can be if he just lets his stuff do the work, and avoids trying to over-power hitters?