Josh Wilson – Almost Back

Brian Walton talks with the St. Louis Cardinals' second-round 2005 pick as his lengthy efforts to return from labrum surgery are almost over. A May 22nd bullpen session was the next milestone.

The June, 2005 First-Year Player Draft was Jeff Luhnow's first leading the St. Louis Cardinals' selections. The organization was blessed with six picks in the first two rounds. Their first-round selections were position players Colby Rasmus (high school) and Tyler Greene (college).

Four pitchers then joined the organization in the flurry of activity in the supplemental rounds for compensation purposes as well as via the second round itself. Mark McCormick (college) was taken, then high school pitchers Tyler Herron and Josh Wilson and finally college hurler Nick Webber, all added by pick number 78 overall.

Wilson is the subject of this article. The then-18-year-old from Whitehouse, Texas was selected 70th in that draft. The Cardinals invested over a half million dollars to sign the right-hander as he walked away from a scholarship offer issued by the University of Texas Longhorns.

When Wilson was drafted, Luhnow was ecstatic, telling me at the time, "I did not think Wilson would be there in the second round. We had him pegged as a first round arm. He is exciting." The 6-foot tall Wilson was considered a "power arm" as his fastball reached the low-to-mid 90s and his curveball showed great potential.

The now-20-year old had a decent professional debut at Johnson City in 2005, posting a 4.22 ERA in 12 starts, best among the starters working at least half their games at the hitters' park there. While Wilson's groundball/flyball ratio was promising, his strikeout rate could show improvement (from 5.40 per nine innings) and his walks were too high (3:2 strikeout to walk ratio).

Prior to the 2006 season, the right-hander was ranked as the Cardinals' number 23 prospect by the staff here at After a stint in extended spring training last year, Wilson was called upon to join the Class-A Quad Cities rotation, but struggled. After posting a 0-2, 9.00 ERA mark in three starts, Wilson was returned to Florida, where the diagnosis of a tear in his labrum and subsequent surgery did in his sophomore campaign.

Wilson faced a lengthy rehabilitation period on his shoulder and his ability to come back from the surgery is clearly the key to his future. Nearing the end of that period and working his way back into game condition, this past weekend Wilson discussed his long road back to action. We began with his 2006 surgery, then discussed a small setback this spring and ended with his plans for the future.

Josh, how did your surgery originally come about?

When I opted for surgery, it was classified as an "exploratory scope" surgery because based on my MRI, Dr. Cook in Jupiter did not see anything wrong with my shoulder, other than tendinitis. But Dr. (George) Paletta in St. Louis was almost positive it was a labrum tear.

How did you react to the bad news?

I had mixed emotions about the surgery. I knew if I had surgery, I would be a year behind what I should be. But when I was in Quad Cities, my velocity had fallen all the way down to 81-84 MPH and I knew something was wrong. I knew the surgery was the best option for my career.

How did you stay motivated and in shape last season when you couldn't play?

My whole life people have told me I wouldn't make it. My parents and I were the only ones who have believed in me. They told me I was too small, not big enough, or whatever other reason they could think of. So when I found out that there were no guarantees that I'd ever get my shoulder back to what it was, I took it upon myself during the rehab process to push myself, to do more work than expected. Even though my shoulder was hurt, I was still able to run.

Did you ever wonder what would have happened if you had accepted the baseball offer from UT?

If I had accepted the scholarship at UT there is no telling what would have happened. I could have had the surgery during my freshman season and who knows if they would have honored my scholarship for the following year? And even if they did, a professional team most likely would not have drafted me after having a major shoulder surgery.

In addition to working out, did you focus on any non-baseball career plans while recovering?

I decided not to attend college. Instead, I will be pursuing a real estate license through an online course approved by the state of Texas.

I noticed you pitched a couple of innings early on in Extended Spring Training, but then you were out of action for a month or more. How is your shoulder doing right now?

My shoulder is getting better. Since going back onto the disabled list, I had a cortisone injection approximately two weeks ago.

Was the cortisone injection a surprise or was it expected as part of your recovery?

The cortisone injection was a shot in the dark really. I experienced some pain during a start against the Mets on April 16th. I had to come out after ten pitches. It was either another exploratory scope surgery, or the cortisone injection. The doctors were unsure if there was a re-tear in my labrum and thought the problem was primarily severe inflammation. They told me that if it was just inflammation then the cortisone would work. If the injection did not work, that meant there was a re-tear in my labrum. Luckily, the cortisone injection worked and I'm back up and throwing.

What are your immediate pitching plans?

I will have my first bullpen on Tuesday, May 22. I will then get to pitch in an intersquad game sometime between May 28th and the 31st. I can't wait to get back on the hill again.

Where do you expect your destination will be in June?

As of right now, I am being told I will most likely go to Batavia for a couple of rehab starts and then hopefully back to Quad Cities. My shoulder has been feeling great and I'm excited about the upcoming season. Before I landed on the DL again, my velocity was already back up to 90-92 MPH, which is exceptionally good news.

Has your past misfortune slowed you down any?

My arm feels absolutely perfect - like it felt when I was a little kid. It's going to take a lot more than a labrum surgery to stop me from accomplishing my goal. I'll keep fighting even if I have four or five more surgeries.

To the extent Josh Wilson's determination can meld with good health and his considerable talent, he should be poised for a big comeback in 2007.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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