It’s hard to find anyone in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system who has added more growth and polish to their overall profile than Charlie Tilson throughout 2015. Not only has the outfielder made significant progress in areas that could potentially boost his prospect stock, the youngest Springfield outfielder still just 22 years of age. The Illinois native has been at the Double-A level for a year while posting prototypical results for lead-off hitter, a spark-plug who can threaten the opposition with his wheels and verve while patrolling center field.
Tilson began his Cardinals career after being taken in the second round of the 2011 First-Year player draft out of a Chicago-area high school. After collecting a $1.25 million dollar signing bonus, he reported to the Cardinals Gulf Coast League affiliate, often a placement for high school draftees. His transition to professional baseball was slow, as Tilson suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder and played in just eight games - four each in the Gulf Coast League and the Johnson City Cardinals (a step above in competition) – before missing the entire 2012 season.
In 2013, Tilson bounced back tremendously by hitting .303 in his first full-season assignment with a short taste of High-A Palm Beach towards the end of the season. The following year, Tilson opened with Palm Beach while continuing to hit above .300 before his mid-season promotion to Springfield for an introduction to Double-A.
Last fall, Tilson was one of a select group handpicked by the Cardinals to represent them in the Arizona Fall League. Unfortunately for Tilson, a fracture in his foot prevented him from finishing the final weeks of the 2014 regular season and attending the Fall League. As Tilson’s foot healed in the off-season, the outfielder worked with Springfield hitting coach Erik Pappas, also a Chicago native, twice each week specifically on his strike zone judgement.
In addition to that work, which resulted in more assertive at-bats this season, Tilson credits the instruction of Cardinals Hall-of-Famer and base-stealing whiz Willie McGee in his development as a base-stealer. His previous career-high was 15 stolen bags in 2013 with Peoria. This season, Tilson has been more aggressive, running fearlessly, and continuing to work on his leads and reading pitchers tendencies in an attempt to take the extra base. The result has been to more than double his career-high - now at 39 thefts on the season.
His emergence has extended to the prospect rankings as Tilson moved into the Cardinals top 10 list as the eighth-best prospect, according to MLB.com’s mid-season list released on August 1st. The left-handed hitter is slashing .288/.344/.372/.716 in 108 Double-A games. In the following interview, Tilson discusses his progress, details his base-running, approach against Double-A pitchers, work with Pappas and much more.
Derek Shore: Charlie, how has this season progressed for you as your second healthy full season is nearly in the books?
Charlie Tilson: “It has been a good year obviously. You just try to build on the last. We’ve still got about a month left, we’re making a big playoff push here. I’m just trying to keep making strides to improve my game and help out this team.”
DS: Your stolen base totals have more than doubled compared to your previous career-high but you’ve also been caught at times. Is that more due to a lack of quality jump or the opposition?
CT: “I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s just one of those things where you go through highs and lows just like anything else in this game. It’s been a lot of experimenting for me. I’ve never stolen over 15 bases in a season previously. I’ve tried to be a lot more aggressive and learn from some errors I’ve made. Each time, I’m trying to figure out ways to become more efficient and having two former catchers (manager Dann Bilardello and hitting coach Erik Pappas) on our staff is huge. I’m going to try to continue to build on the numbers I’ve put up and I’m confident I can keep improving.”
DS: What type of approach do you take to every at-bat at the Double-A level where pitchers can make adjustments a lot quicker than most?
CT: “At this time of year it is kind of interesting with only eight teams in this league. You start to see pitchers a variety of times. Each situation will prevent itself differently depending on the situation of the game. I think you definitely have to keep some notes and tabs on some guys, for an example McGowin (Kyle McGowin the Arkansas Travelers hurler on Sunday night). There has been times we’ve gotten after him and other times where he’s diced us up a little bit. We’re going to try to do our best to take advantage of the opportunity we’ve had to see him in the past and hopefully we can get out there and put some runs up on the board.”
DS: Last off-season you worked with hitting coach Erik Pappas specifically on strike zone discipline. How do you feel about the progress you’ve made in that regard?
CT: “I think I’m definitely seen some strides. It has shown in me limiting my strikeouts this year. I still would like to walk more, like to improve my on-base percentage as much as possible, but I definitely think I’m moving in the right direction. It is one of those things that goes hand and hand with how you're swinging it. I think a lot of times when you are going through some downs, it seems like you're continually getting down in the count, they are getting more aggressive and going after you. I think I’m moving in the right direction (Tilson reiterated) and I’m going to keep working on that.”
DS: Given your positive health this season after coming off a stress fracture in your right foot that kept you out of Arizona Fall League action, do you feel that has improved your agility when tracking down fly-balls or cutting balls in the gap?
CT: (Tilson agreed that it’s benefited his agility.) “From those past injuries, I've learned more about my body and how to take care of myself through a full season. I think when I first got out there at Peoria you try to be the hustle guy at all times and be the hero, but at times you don’t necessarily have to. I think it took a toll on my body after a while and I kind of learned this year to have more control to really turn on the jets when I need to and it has really paid off for me”.
DS: What are the biggest improvements you’ve made to your game this season?
CT: “I think stolen bases would be number one. That’s been huge for me. Plate discipline, I’ve made some strides and that’s something I’m continuing to work at. When that can come together, it will show in the average, the power numbers. You’ve got to swing at good pitches to hit, doubles and triples.”
DS: Which Cardinals major-league outfielder are you most close with or has helped in your development since you were drafted?
CT: “My first ever off-season I had an opportunity to go to St. Louis and work out with Matt Holliday. I feel forever indebted to him for having that opportunity and learning how about he went about his business in the off-season. That was an incredible opportunity for me. Since then, I’ve had a ton of help from Willie McGee - obviously a big-name among the Cardinals and he has continued to come out here and work with us. They’ve all been great opportunities all-around.”
DS: Do you any goals this season, for the off-season, and on into 2016?
CT: “Obviously I want to continue to get stronger, continue a healthy season - knock on wood - and me and Papp (Erik Pappas) will continue to stick together and build on what we're working on. Just building those things I’ve talked about before. I think I could improve my game bunting for sure. That is something I’ll work on in the off-season. Obviously continuing with the stolen bases, try to clean up some things at the plate, and keep working.”
DS: Thank you for your time, Charlie. I wish you well going forward!
CT: “Appreciate it, take care!”
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.