Fans of the Class A Advanced Bakersfield Blaze were looking for a show during the final homestand in franchise history. Austin Wilson gave them a couple.
The Mariners outfield prospect was named California League Offensive Player of the Week after going 10-for-21 (.476) with five homers, a double, 10 RBIs and six runs scored in six games from Aug. 22-28. It's the third Player of the Week honor in Wilson's four-year Minor League career and first since he was honored in the Class A Midwest League for his performance from April 28-May 4, 2014.
The 24-year-old outfielder's big week jump-started last Thursday when he notched his first career multi-homer game by going deep twice -- once with the bases loaded in the seventh inning -- during Bakersfield's 13-6 win over San Jose. Wilson homered in each of his next three games against Stockton and has now gone deep five times in his last four games after entering that stretch with eight long balls in his first 95 contests of the season.
"San Jose always has good starting pitching, so I knew I had to sit on the fastball pretty consistently," he said. "[Giants starter] Dan Slania is a pretty great pitcher, and he got me in the first at-bat that night, he struck me out. So I knew I just needed to wait to get the fastball where I wanted it, then stay short, and thankfully I was able to get one out to right-center. Same thing later with three men on against [Tyler Cyr], who was throwing hard. After that, two homers is always going to boost your confidence, and I carried that into the series against Stockton. We're finishing out the year against San Jose and Stockton too, so I need to keep this rolling."
Once considered a top-10 prospect in the Seattle system, Wilson hit .239/.342/.374 with 10 homers in 109 games with the Blaze last year and started 2016 with a .184/.315/.286 line and three homers in 41 games through its first two months. He knew something needed to change, and he turned to what was going on between his ears.
"I think the biggest thing was I had a really good Spring Training, and then I set some unreal expectations," Wilson said. "You never want to repeat a level, obviously, and then next thing I knew, I was hitting in the .100's after two months. I was in a bad place mentally. Thankfully, the management in this organization helped me on my mental skills, and that's helped me in the game. It's been all about simplifying and not overthinking.... A lot has to do with just being optimistic and not so negative when you're going through hard times. I'm way better now in that regard. I know it's cliche, but I'm back to enjoying the game."
These changes in his mental approach are paying off at the right time in order for the Stanford product to carry some confidence into the offseason. Seven of Wilson's 13 homers on the year have come in August, and in 23 games this month, he owns a .284/.356/.605 line, making this by far his best month at the Class A Advanced level.
The timing also couldn't be better for Bakersfield fans. Minor League Baseball announced last week that the Blaze would be contracted, along with their California League brethren in High Desert, to make room for two new franchises in the Carolina League for 2017. That made Bakersfield's three-game stretch with Stockton from Friday through Sunday the final regular-season homestand at Sam Lynn Ballpark, a yard that has stood since the Cal League's inaugural season in 1941.
"It's been a surreal experience these last couple of days," said Wilson, who has played 107 career games at Sam Lynn. "The fans have been coming out a lot, and the environment has been awesome. It hasn't really hit me that this won't be here next year, but the authenticity of playing in a place like Sam Lynn, we saw it last night.... It was awesome to get the W, and now we're going to do our best to bring a California League championship back here, if we can."
Following the Blaze's 11-8 win over Stockton on Sunday, Bakersfield owns a four-game lead over Visalia in the race for the second-half North Division crown with seven games remaining. A second-half title would guarantee at least one playoff game back at Sam Lynn Ballpark, but Wilson says the club isn't getting ahead of itself.
"I don't think we're thinking about the playoffs all that much right now," Wilson said. "Yeah, we're in first place right now, but we're focused on getting through these last two series first. We want to keep our focus there and do well, so maybe when they're done, we can talk about going into the playoffs with some momentum."
Here is the complete list of Minor League Offensive Players of the Week for Aug. 22-28:
International -- Byron Buxton, Rochester (MIN): .353/.343/.735, 7 G, 12-for-34, 1 2B, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 8 R, 0 BB, 17 K
Pacific Coast -- Austin Slater, Sacramento (SF): .393/.485/.964, 7 G, 11-for-28, 1 2B, 5 HR, 12 RBI, 5 R, 5 BB, 1 IBB, 9 K
Eastern -- Barrett Barnes, Altoona (PIT): .409/.480/.909, 6 G, 9-for-22, 2 2B, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 4 R, 2 BB, 1 IBB, 2 K
Southern -- Lane Adams, Tennessee (CHC): .500/.548/.750, 7 G, 14-for-28, 4 2B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, 5 R, 2 BB, 4 K, 7 SB
Texas -- J.D. Davis, Corpus Christi (HOU): .455/.520/1.045, 6 G, 10-for-22, 4 2B, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 7 R, 3 BB, 6 K
California -- Austin Wilson, Bakersfield (SEA): .476/.522/1.238, 6 G, 10-for-21, 1 2B, 5 HR, 10 RBI, 6 R, 1 BB, 1 IBB, 8 K
Carolina -- Dorssys Paulino, Lynchburg (CLE): .560/.577/1.040, 6 G, 14-for-25, 4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 4 R, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 CS
Florida State -- Blake Trahan, Daytona (CIN): .565/.577/.913, 6 G, 13-for-23, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 9 R, 2 BB, 3 K, 4 SB
Midwest -- Trace Loehr, Beloit (OAK): .556/.613/.714, 7 G, 15-for-27, 5 2B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 5 R, 4 BB, 2 IBB, 2 K, 4 SB, 1 CS
South Atlantic -- Bryan Reynolds, Augusta (SF): .467/.484/.667, 7 G, 14-for-30, 3 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 9 R, 1 BB, 1 IBB, 8 K, 1 SB
New York-Penn -- Bobby Dalbec, Lowell (BOS): (.375/.464/.750, 6 G, 9-for-24, 2 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, 4 BB, 4 K)
Northwest -- Josh Anderson, Hillsboro (ARI): .458/.519/.833, 6 G, 11-for-24, 3 2B, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 5 R, 3 BB, 2 K, 3 SB
Appalachian -- Bradley Jones, Bluefield (TOR): .448/.515/1.069, 7 G, 13-for-29, 3 2B, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 9 R, 4 BB, 6 K, 4 SB, 1 CS
Pioneer -- Paxton De La Garza, Missoula (ARI): .448/.467/.793, 7 G, 13-for-29, 1 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 4 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 1 CS
Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.