To cap off the end of the 2009 season, I’m going to be counting down my list of the top 50 prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system. I’ll be counting down one prospect per day, with an extensive recap on each player, until I reach number one. Check out the previous installments:
24. Justin Wilson, LHP
2009 Season: Wilson made his professional debut in 2009, spending the entire season with the Lynchburg Hillcats. The move may have been an aggressive one, as Wilson hadn’t pitched since July 2008, and wasn’t exactly on the same talent level as a guy like Pedro Alvarez, who also made his debut in 2009 with Lynchburg after being drafted out of college.
Wilson posted a 4.50 ERA, with a 7.3 K/9, and a 4.3 BB/9 in 116 innings pitched in the 2009 season. Overall, those numbers don’t look too impressive. A closer look shows that Wilson really struggled in the first half, but was excellent in the second half. In 53.1 innings pitched from April through June, Wilson had a 6.58 ERA, a 7.9 K/9, and a 4.7 BB/9 ratio. In 62.2 innings pitched from July to the end of the season, Wilson had a 2.73 ERA, a 6.7 K/9, and a 3.9 BB/9 ratio.
The biggest difference between the first half and the second half was the walk rate. Wilson lowered his BB/9 ratio by almost a full walk per nine innings pitched. He also lowered his K/9 ratio, but at the same time became harder to hit in the second half. Wilson had BABIPs of .241, .375, and .452 in his first three months of the 2009 season. He was around the .260-.270 range combined for the rest of the year.
The average starter is close to .290-.300. Anything higher either indicates poor luck, or the pitcher being easy to hit for whatever reason. Wilson’s BB/9 adjustment makes me think he changed something mid-season which not only improved his control, but made it harder for opposing batters to get hits. Combine those two, and we were able to see why Wilson was a fifth round pick for the Pirates in the 2008 draft.
Information: Wilson was one of the keys to Fresno State winning the College World Series in 2008, pitching a gem in the final game to give his school the championship. Wilson had a 4.34 ERA in his senior season with Fresno State, with a 99:65 K/BB ratio in 116 innings pitched, numbers that were very similar to the ones he put up in Lynchburg. He really stepped up when Tanner Scheppers went down, posting a 3.92 ERA in just over 43 innings after Scheppers went down, not to mention his excellent work in the College World Series.
Wilson held out until the draft pick signing deadline, mostly to take a break from the game after a long college season. The reason for his first half struggles could be due to the long layoff from the game. On the other hand, it could be due to the aggressive placement that sent Wilson right to high-A ball. In either case, I think the pitcher we saw in the second half is closer to what we can expect from Wilson in the future.
Wilson has a good mixture of pitches, and while he won’t overpower hitters, his arsenal can be mixed up in order to beat opponents. Wilson’s fastball hits in the 87-93 MPH range, and in his playoff performance against Salem he was consistently hitting 92-93 MPH. He has a big breaking curveball that could be a plus pitch, and added a sharp slider in 2008 that he uses as a changeup. He also was scheduled to add a two seam fastball to the mix in the Florida Instructional League after the season, which should help to disguise his breaking pitches by adding another pitch with some movement.
Wilson’s success will largely depend on the command of his pitches, most notably his fastball. Wilson pounds the strike zone, aggressively challenging hitters. His stuff won’t overpower hitters, so he has to use better command to stay ahead in the count, and rely on deception with his breaking pitches to beat hitters. He also needs to keep the walk rate low, and produce a high ground ball ratio to get easy outs. Wilson did well in the latter category, with a 49.6 percent ground ball ratio in 2009, which is well above average.
2010 Expectations: Wilson should spend the 2010 season with Altoona. If his first half is like his second half with Lynchburg in 2009, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move up to Indianapolis by the end of the season.
Optimistic Projection: Wilson is a left hander who gets batters out on both sides of the plate, which would work well as a starter. If he continues to improve his control and command, like we saw in the second half of the season, then he could be a middle of the rotation starter in the majors, maybe as early as the 2011 season.
Conservative Projection: For now Wilson’s mixture of pitches makes him a future starter option. A conservative projection puts him in the back of the rotation. He will be competing for a future rotation spot with prospects like Jeff Locke, Rudy Owens, Bryan Morris, Brad Lincoln, and Tim Alderson, along with major leaguers like Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart, and Daniel McCutchen. While Wilson has the talent to win a starter job, there is the possibility that he is used as a reliever in the majors due to the lack of an available position.
Check back tomorrow for prospect number 23…