TCN 2016 Cardinals Prospect #6 Charlie Tilson

Does St. Louis’ top position player prospect have a higher ceiling than fourth outfielder in the bigs?

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile

School: New Trier High School, Wilmette, Illinois

2015 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
10 OF 12,02,92 6-0 165 L L 2011 2nd

Selected 2015 stats

Spr 0.295 0.333 539 85 159 20 4 32 46 72 46 0.338 0.351 0.388 0.739
AFL 0.203 0.261 59 14 12 3 0 6 9 13 4 0.276 0.309 0.254 0.563

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (8): Charlie Tilson began receiving support in the community vote at #4 with some love from GM4aday. He posted that while he was impressed with the run that Aledmys Diaz made at the end of the season, Tilson played well all year and he was most impressed with his increased base stealing. Bccran wrote that Tilson is a nice defensive player and has good speed, but lacks any power. Since he's in the queue behind Grichuk and Pham in center field, it probably slots him as a fourth or fifth outfielder for the foreseeable future.

Desmetlax12 posted that he thinks Tilson is close to contributing at the major league level. He really liked how he's turned his plus-plus speed into production along with improving his plate discipline. Bccran responded saying that he thinks Tilson’s profile is one that fits as a future potential leadoff man. - Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore (7): Tilson had a very eventful, but beneficial development year in 2015. I named the outfielder our Springfield Player of the Year in 2015 after he made both the mid-season and post-season Texas League All-Star Teams and paced the circuit in hits (159) and stolen bases (46). After missing the Arizona Fall League due to a broken foot suffered late in the 2014 season, Tilson returned to the AFL as a taxi-squad player this past fall and played sparingly.

A pro scout who covered the Texas League describes Tilson as an athletic player with plus speed and baseball acumen. The scout said Tilson needs to get more efficient on the bases; 46 successful steals out of 65 chances. He has average power to the gaps, shows good feel to hit and his speed helps that. The scout said Tilson profiles as a fourth outfielder, with an arm that is average to tick below with good range to play center field.

Scouting opinions are a mixed bag on Tilson; most saw a fourth outfielder, who could contribute without his bat due to plus speed and defense. The optimists who believe in his hitting ability see a second-division regular along the lines of Rajai Davis with less power potential.

From a player development standpoint, the men who worked with him day in and day out this past season, Springfield manager Dann Bilardello and hitting coach Erik Pappas were intrigued by a more assertive approach and consistency in every phase of his game. Both Chicago, Illinois natives, Pappas and Tilson worked intensely on strike zone judgment last off-season. The improvements included a career-high 46 walks and his strikeouts fell from 104 to 72 in 14 more games compared to his 2014 totals.

"His hard work is starting to pay off; we’ve been working on getting his swing flatter through the zone," said hitting coach Erik Pappas this past season, who added with more thump Tilson will be scary with his speed. "He was a little too steep to begin the season. That’s why you see him starting to drive the ball in the outfield, especially the other way, as he’s staying on the ball. That has a lot to do with his swing path."

Even with the refinements of his game in 2015, Tilson still sees little parts that need further fine-tuning as it appears he'll be the regular center fielder for the Memphis Redbirds in 2016. The Cardinals also added him to the 40-man roster recently, so a major-league audition may not be far in the distance.

“Obviously, I want to continue to get stronger, continue a healthy season," said Tilson of his off-season aspirations. "I will continue to stick together with Papp (Erik Pappas) and build on what we're working on (strike zone judgment)."

“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.”

Brian Walton (6): As the top 40 pyramid narrows, the relative rankings of Tilson suggest a high degree of common thinking across our three voters, but the first glance is deceiving. In reality, I am the only one here who considers Tilson the Cardinals system’s top position player prospect. In fact, Tilson is not even Derek’s top outfielder, as he favors Magneuris Sierra, while the message board community likes shortstop Aledmys Diaz best.

I ended up carrying the vote as we all agreed that Tilson is at least a top eight prospect in the system. I am not all that excited about it, though, but I see little choice. With the graduation from the list of last year’s top hitters (also outfielders) in Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty, along with Tommy Pham, and the fact that top draftee Nick Plummer did not excel out of the gates, Tilson’s solid, yet unspectacular Double-A season elevates his ranking. Yet his disappointing time in Arizona did not provide a strong finish.

If nothing else, the fact that the best five prospects in the system are all pitchers should tell you about the level of imbalance with the Cardinals top position players. In fact, never before in my 11 years of running this top prospect list had there been no hitter among the top five – until now.

One Midwest-based prospect evaluator, who has seen Tilson many times over his four years of play, put it very well. In doing so, he turned my every response into a question of his own. We'll pick up the discussion partway through.

“So, you think he is probably at least a fourth outfielder type?” he asked. “Yes,” was my quick response.

“Is he better than Shane Robinson?” he posed. “Yes,” I replied confidently.

“OK, is he better than Jon Jay and Tommy Pham?” was his next query. “Hmmmm, I am not so sure about that,” was my answer.

“Then I guess I won’t even ask you about Randal Grichuk,” he concluded. Only silence followed.

Later, I looked up the outfielders’ respective career OPS’s at Double-A. They follow.
Robinson .936 (320 plate appearances)
Pham .886 (537 PAs)
Jay .808 (544 PAs)
Grichuk .780 (542 PAs)
Tilson .709 (739 PAs)

In other words, Tilson has more Double-A seasoning than any of the others had, but the poorest results.

And there we have it. Another outfielder who appears to be good enough to make it, but is probably not long-term starting material.

To be fair, my scouting friend insists that he really likes Tilson and sees him as eventually having big-league value as a Peter Bourjos-type of player. The latter never got any traction with St. Louis, but is likely far from done as a Major Leaguer.

2016 will be Tilson’s fifth year as a pro, but he missed one of those seasons due to injury. That pace to reach Triple-A is the same as Bourjos, another prep draftee, followed while coming up through the Angels’ system. (By the way, Bourjos' Double-A OPS was .778 in 504 plate appearances.) Jay, a second-rounder like Tilson, but as a college player, made his Triple-A debut in his third season.

Cardinals farm director Gary LaRocque summed up Tilson’s 2015 regular season at Springfield.

“Charlie Tilson put together a real strong year,” LaRocque said. “He went into Double-A. He has been healthy. He challenged himself on the base paths. He has been on base. He has been solid in the leadoff spot and very good defensively in center field. So this is a very productive year for Charlie and we are really pleased for him.”

Regarding Arizona Fall League results, I feel we need to be consistent. On one hand, if we celebrate Aledmys Diaz’ 80 plate appearances as being meaningful, then we cannot brush off Tilson’s 68 around the Mendoza Line as insignificant.

Looking ahead, despite Tilson having no career Triple-A at-bats at this point, his St. Louis outlook is somewhat promising. The only true centerfielders ahead of him are already on the Major League roster in Grichuk and Pham. Both have injury histories (as does Tilson), so perhaps his MLB debut will not be as far away as it might initially appear.

Even so, though it is not Tilson’s fault, it is just hard for me to get excited about a likely fourth outfielder as the organization’s top position player prospect.

Our 2016 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

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