Breakout candidate: Giants infielder Wilson
MiLB.com's Breakout Candidate series spotlights players who could garner some serious attention in 2022. Here's a look at Giants’ No. 15 prospect Will Wilson. There's still time for Will Wilson to make the Giants look very clever. The club landed its No. 15 prospect in an interesting deal with the
MiLB.com's Breakout Candidate series spotlights players who could garner some serious attention in 2022. Here's a look at Giants’ No. 15 prospect Will Wilson.
There's still time for Will Wilson to make the Giants look very clever.
The club landed its No. 15 prospect in an interesting deal with the Angels in December 2019. Wilson was the prize in a salary-dump deal that found the Giants paying off the final $12 million of veteran Zack Cozart’s contract. In exchange, they sent cash and eventually left-hander Garrett Williams to the Angels as a player to be named later.
At the time, the move looked like a steal for the Giants. Wilson had just been selected by the Angels with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2019 Draft. And he batted .275 with a .767 OPS and 18 extra-base hits over 46 games for Rookie-level Orem in his first Minor League season.
The pandemic interrupted the natural progression for all Minor Leaguers, and Wilson completed his first full year in 2021. The end results of 100 total games between High-A Eugene and Double-A Richmond weren’t pretty, and things didn’t improve in an increasingly difficult Arizona Fall League season.
Wilson struggled against pitching at the higher levels. He batted .220/.310/.402 overall, but struggled to a .189 average and .587 OPS in 51 games at Double-A. He struck out 137 times total and whiffed in 36.7 percent of his plate appearances for the Flying Squirrels.
Oppo 🌮— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 23, 2021
Will Wilson went the other way for his first spring homer. pic.twitter.com/9H4mUgWj2f
Wilson fell flat in his chance to make up for some misfortune with the Scorpions in the AFL. He batted .164 with a .542 OPS, two homers, three doubles and eight RBIs in 19 games.
Although the late-season woes may have left a bad taste, the Giants seem determined to provide Wilson with a lot of runway to figure things out. He could potentially be their second baseman of the future and a steady double-play partner for No. 5 overall prospect Marco Luciano. Essentially, they bought an extra-first rounder, and now they’re looking to mold him their way and help him find his identity.
Wilson showed the tools of a slower infielder with impressive raw power and a knack for finding the barrel at North Carolina State. He clubbed 39 homers and exclusively stuck at shortstop after 59 games at second base in his freshman season.
But he was unable to display the same kind of power in Double-A. Wilson found some gaps, totaling 22 doubles and a pair of triples across both levels, but he went deep just 15 times -- 10 of which came in his first 49 games with Eugene.
The Giants also challenged him at six different defensive positions in the AFL after he played all but 10 games at shortstop in the regular season.
That’s a lot of moving pieces for a player in his first full professional season in a new organization.
His year didn’t have a simple beginning either. The Giants encouraged him to improve his lateral quickness and agility after he worked with the Major League staff before the shortened 2020 season and at the alternate site.
"He put in a ton of work this offseason. He came in in fantastic shape, and you can see it in the way his body is moving, in particular with his hips and the way they're kind of starting the swing, and then you're seeing the ball carry across the diamond [on throws]," big league skipper Gabe Kapler told reporters, including NBC Sports Bay Area, in March. "It's a talented young player who has some development left, but has impressed every time we've seen him. ... In particular, he came into camp in great shape. He made body changes that we asked him to make and he was diligent throughout the offseason in getting to those changes."
Will Wilson belts his 10th homer of the season, giving the @SFGiants No. 12 prospect a share of the High-A West lead. pic.twitter.com/rhNTSnOj8Q— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) June 30, 2021
Wilson said he tested out the modern approach to power hitting -- earlier point of contact, emphasis on higher launch angle, swinging up -- during the lost season, but felt comfortable going back to the shorter, direct-to-the-ball approach that had previously worked for him. When he’s off, which he often was against some of the Minors’ best pitchers in Double-A and the AFL, his swing can get a little long. That's when the contact rates go down and the strikeouts pile up.
There was some success for Wilson to draw from in his first full season. He had a strong first month with the Emeralds, batting .289 with five homers, 16 runs scored and 12 RBIs through 83 at-bats in May. Wilson also improved his line-drive rate by more than 3 percent (21.7) after the promotion and maintained a BABIP similar to the .298 mark he sported in Eugene. Those both point to the idea that he was finding barrels when he was making contact.
Reports seem to indicate his defensive future will be at second base. It’s expected that teams will try to maximize a player’s versatility at this stage in their career, but some stability might be good for Wilson.
The 23-year-old should have a more sturdy foundation when he likely returns to Richmond for the 2022 season. The Giants were aggressive with his first promotion as well as 50 at-bats in the Cactus League before he played a game above Rookie ball. So he can certainly play his way into Triple-A this year.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.