Wilson caps nomadic year with trip to desert

Boston outfielder lands in AFL after trade, demotion, promotion

Marcus Wilson has collected 40 home runs and 80 stolen bases over 498 pro games across two systems. (Jill Weisleder/Getty Images)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | September 25, 2019 10:15 AM

Improbably, Marcus Wilson's 2019 is ending where it began.

In March, the outfielder was in Scottsdale, preparing for his sixth campaign in the Arizona system. He got into 11 Cactus League games and earned an assignment to Double-A Jackson. About two weeks after Opening Night, Boston traded for him in the Blake Swihart deal and seemingly brought a close to his days playing in the Grand Canyon State.

Six months later, Wilson's suiting up for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League.

"I was in the Arizona organization five years and I never had the chance to go [to the AFL]," he said. "I've seen a lot of my friends go. They've all told me it's a great experience, so I'm definitely excited to have the chance."

Through his first four games with the Javelinas, Wilson's excitement has been crystal clear. He's 7-for-14 (.500, tops among qualifiers) with eight RBIs, a homer, a double and three walks.

But upon the 23-year-old's arrival in the Red Sox system, it looked unlikely he'd belong in the elite autumnal showcase.

From his April 22 organization debut with Double-A Portland until his May 18 demotion to Class A Advanced Salem, Boston's No. 17 prospect batted .161. Although he continued to work walks, Wilson struck out 33 times in 19 games. The 2014 sandwich pick out of a Southern California high school has always been considered a prospect prone to strikeouts, but one with power and speed potential. Fanning nearly twice per game, though, nullifies those tools.

"We noticed that I wouldn't get in [a good] hitting position," he said, "or that I was late."

Wilson went hitless over his first two Carolina League games, but by his sixth game, he was 8-for-21 (.381) with a homer, two doubles and seven RBIs.

"He worked hand-to-hand with our hitting coach, Lance Zawadzki," Salem manager and Peoria coach Corey Wimberly said. "They worked to get him on time for the fastball and to adjust better. ... Posture stuff, bat-path stuff -- they cleaned up a lot to get him in better position to use what we call an 'A swing.'

"But for the most part, it was getting him back to believing in himself and his ability."

The manager had personal insight into that issue. When Wimberly, a 2010 A's Organization All-Star, was traded to the Pirates that offseason, he slumped to a .218 average through his first six weeks in the new system.

"I was able to connect with [Wilson] pretty fast, me being a guy who ... knew what that feeling is where you get traded and started to struggle," Wimberly said. "You're struggling in front of a lot of people not knowing your abilities, not knowing the player that you are. You've got new teammates, and you think they're all going, 'Man, we traded for this guy?' Me being a guy who's been there, we connected pretty fast."


Wilson signs for fans before an AFL game. (Jill Weisleder/Getty Images)

Considering his performance through the rest of the year, Wilson doesn't have to dwell on the rough stretch ("It wasn't really nothing, transitioning-wise," he said). Wimberly, though, remembers Wilson's hardships ("When he came down, he was in the dumps ... at rock bottom."). That made it especially gratifying for the manager to see the player rediscover himself.

Wilson was in the Carolina League from May 19-July 17. In that span, he led the loop with a .342 average, a .603 slugging percentage and a 1.016 on-base percentage. He was second with 88 total bases and belted eight homers over 45 games. Additionally, he paced the Salem club in hits (50), doubles (12), extra-base hits (21) and runs (26). What of the strikeouts? After whiffing in 44 percent of his 75 Eastern League plate appearances, he cut that number to 28 percent with Salem, down to 47 strikeouts in 167 PAs. It earned him a promotion.

"I wasn't in any rush, but that I was doing well and they were moving me back up, that was a good sign of relief -- that they had trust in me to keep going," Wilson said. "It was definitely rewarding."

It was rewarding for Wimberly too.

"That was one of the highlights of my season," the skipper said. "Our initial conversation was, 'It [stinks] to come down, but you can look at it as an opportunity to get better. Ideally, we'll have you back out of here.' And he forced the hand by going out and taking care of business. It was pretty cool to call him in and say, 'Hey, man, you're going back to Double-A.'"

During his second Double-A stint (July 14-Sept. 1), Wilson retained his status as his team's most productive hitter, leading the Sea Dogs in homers (seven), OBP (.325), slugging (.486), OPS (.811), doubles (13), extra-base hits (20), total bases (70) and runs (26) while ranking in the top 10 in the Eastern League in several categories over those seven weeks.

"Having the confidence back up there was really big for me," he said. "It was big on that, and just getting my 'A' swing off."

In 43 games, he whiffed 49 times -- still high, but nothing compared to his first crack at the EL. Wimberly doesn't necessarily see that aspect of Wilson's game as an urgent issue to address in Arizona. Through four games for Peoria, the Los Angeles native has struck out four times.

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"Ideally, looking at numbers in general, you'd say you want him to cut down on the strikeouts. But most of his strikeouts came before he was in a good spot with his hitting," the Javelinas coach said. "I'd like to see him be more aggressive on the bases. That's what I'd like to put an emphasis on -- stealing and taking an extra base when the opportunity presents itself. And more 'detail' stuff ... backing up bases, smaller things that are going to take him to the next level."

Wilson doesn't deny it's been a long season, but he's glad to have four more weeks of it.

"Whirlwind. Very nomad-like," he admitted. "But I enjoyed this year. ... It was a fun year, all in all."

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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