In the spring of 2015, St. Louis Cardinals infield prospect Jacob Wilson was invited to his first big-league camp. From that moment on, Wilson opened eyes and left an impression with skipper Mike Matheny and his coaches with his ability to play multiple positions, hit for power as a right-handed option, and be a steady run producer.
Coming off a 2014 season-ending knee injury, Wilson was a late-cut and returned to Double-A Springfield of the Texas League. There, he hit .225/.326/.450/.776 with seven home runs and 21 RBI before finishing the year in front of his hometown crowd in Memphis. At Triple-A, he slashed .231/.292./.391/.683 with 11 home runs and 56 RBI.
As far as production, Wilson had one of the better results across the board in the organization. That drew kind words from his Memphis manager Mike Shildt.
"It was great having Jacob up there,” Shildt said. “He showed up and didn't miss a beat. He started swinging the bat well almost immediately. He was productive all year, productive with Springfield, productive for Memphis, and went to the Pan-Am Games for a little over three weeks and was on the USA Club that ended up losing in the Gold Medal game in a heartbreaker, evidently."
Perhaps because of his relatively low batting average, the Cardinals opted to leave Wilson unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft last week. Fortunately, the former Memphis Tiger was not nabbed and should be slated to give Triple-A another go in 2016. That seems more likely following the recent acquisition of Jedd Gyorko from San Diego Padres to fill the Cardinals utility void from last year.
However, with or without Gyorko, Wilson remains on the cusp and is determined to make another solid impression on the big-league staff next spring. In the exclusive interview below, Wilson summarizes his year, elaborates n his approach, talks about his versatility, his offseason approach and much more!
Derek Shore: How would you summarize this past season?
Jacob Wilson: "This past season was one of my most memorable seasons to date. Starting the season off with my first invite to major-league camp was an honor. That was the first time I had been on that side of the clubhouse in my 3 1/2 years. Started in Springfield and then promoted to Memphis a month or so in.
"Coming home to play in front of my hometown was amazing. The support from family and friends was top of the line. Always provided for a fun atmosphere to play in. In July, I left the team to join Team USA for a couple of weeks.
"That was one experience I will never forget. Getting to wear those three letters across my chest for the first time was an amazing experience. Ended up bringing home a silver medal in the games. Overall, this season was productive. I had my ups and downs, but that's how I am learning to prepare for next year."
DS: You are noted to have an aggressive approach at the plate. Did that ever work against you, when facing upper-level arms for the first time, especially when behind in the counts?
JW: "Part of my game since I was in college was to be an aggressive hitter. I want to go into every at-bat knowing I'm a tough out. I do take aggressive swings early in counts, and when my swing isn't quite right, I tend to miss pitches, which causes me to get behind in the count.
"I don't think me being aggressive hindered my performance this season. There were times where I tended to be over aggressive, but that's when I took a step back and realized what was going wrong and got back to my approach."
DS: Could you elaborate a little more on your hitting approach and what you are looking for certain situations?
JW: "As far as my approach is concerned. I look to drive the ball early in counts. On occasion, my approach will slightly change due to the situation. Especially with baserunners, because that is one part of my game that has been consistent for me is my production, and I always want that to be a strong part of my game.
"One thing I need to work on is drawing more walks. They were down this year, but I feel like I was getting away from myself and trying to do too much. So the more consistent I can make my setup and approach, the more walks I will draw and the fewer strikeouts I will have."
DS: Is the second base or third base position more challenging to you?
JW: "I honestly wouldn't say either is challenging. I played shortstop and third base in college, so that side of the infield is natural to me. When I was first drafted, second base was new to me.
"I feel like now I'm just as comfortable with both of them. I like working around the bag at second. I like how not much thinking goes into it at third. Everything is a reaction and making sure you have yourself positioned each pitch and each batter correctly."
DS: Also, they have played you at left field and first base in the past. Obviously playing those would help in more at-bats, but are you comfortable playing those positions?
JW: "One thing I learned was that in my second stint in the fall league, that I was being used as a utility guy who was playing every day but playing 3-4 positions. From there, I went into major-league camp and had time at all four infield positions and time in left field.
"Once I realized that I would have an opportunity, I worked every day at multiple positions to make myself comfortable at those positions. Throughout the season, I would go to the outfield and chase balls down during batting practice so that I could get used to balls coming off at different angles.
"Once I was able to get work in at those spots, I started becoming more comfortable there. One focus this offseason is to get as many reps as I can in as many different positions as possible so I can play any position."
DS: Who has had the biggest influence on your development in Cardinals system?
JW: “I don't think I can say there has been one specific person. I would say there had been multiple people who have helped me grow within the system. Managers like Dann Bilardello and Mike Shildt, who I have played a majority of my time in the system with, have both been an influence of my development.
“Also, Mark DeJohn spent a lot of time with me right after I was drafted and helped mold me into a second baseman since I had never played there before. So, I could say those three men would all be major influences on my development through the system.”
DS: What is your plan of attack this off-season with a big league spring training under your belt?
JW: "Going into every off-season, I think one of the ways you can learn what direction you go is to go back and ask yourself how your season went. Then you start learning the positives and negatives from throughout the year. Once you learn from those, then you can start finding ways to make sure that's not a negative the next year.
"I would think anyone you asked they would tell you they want to come back faster and stronger the next year. So that's always one way to approach your physical training. Once you learn what kind of player you are -- the easier it is to know how your offseason will go. My swing needs to be more consistent, and I have to make sure my production always finds a way to improve.
"I have to go into camp this year making sure I have done everything I can to try and win a spot. That's my goal going into this offseason -- is to make sure I do everything in my power to show I can play and compete at the major-league level day in and day out.
Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals AFL Prospect Interview: P Deck McGuire
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