Inside The AFL: Andy Wilson

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Speculation is the lynchpin of Minor League Baseball. Who's going where? Who's for real? How high is this player's ceiling and will they ever reach it? Every position player, regardless of where they play, is judged first and foremost by their bat. If you can hit, they'll find a place for you in the field.

For Andy Wilson, they've found a whole bunch of places for him to play. That's because for Wilson the bat has never been the problem. In 2005, with the Hi-A Florida State League, he hit .284 with 28 homers, and perhaps most impressively he walked as often as he struck out. A bat like that gets every opportunity to find a place for the glove, at least in a National League organization. This season in St. Lucie Wilson played first base, third base, left field and he caught.

Now the question becomes, what position are they going to find for him to play permanently?

"I'm down here concentrating on catching, I feel like I can handle the corner spots, in the infield and the outfield, and catching is something that's new to me, so I'm really working hard on the defense." Wilson says just before he steps in the cage for batting practice in Surprise, Arizona, where Wilson's Grand Canyon Rafters took on the Phoenix Desert Dogs during the first week of Arizona Fall League action.

"I actually caught for the first time last year right about this time in instructs. So I'm just finishing up my first year behind the plate. I feel like it's coming along, I've still got a lot to learn, but I'm getting a lot of work here behind the plate, working with a lot of coaches, and I'm getting better."

Wilson is willing to work and he knows the AFL is all about development. His focus is clear, and was made so from the beginning.

"The coaches told me that I was coming down here to get experience catching, and that's what I'm trying to do."

That's quite a change in philosophy from a few years ago. In 2003, when Wilson first signed with the Mets, catcher was probably the last spot that a young player thought he could zip through the organization. Between Mike Piazza, Vance Wilson, and Joe Hietpas it seemed the Mets were loaded behind the plate. In retrospect Wilson wishes he'd started this process sooner.

"Every organization needs quality catchers. There just aren't that many guys who can do it and hit as well. When I look back, I guess I sort of wish I had thought of it, or someone else had suggested it, but when I first came to the organization they were stocked back there. I'm not worried about how I hit down here," Wilson says with a smile, "I'm here to play defense."

That statement alone could be cause to give Wilson a CAT scan, but then he steps in the cage for pre-game batting practice, and launches five straight deep over the left center field wall. Of course he's not worried about how he hits, he's already checked hitting off his list of accomplishments.

"I know I've got the pure arm strength to catch," Wilson says after the batting practice display, "I'm working on trying to get more accurate, and I'm working hard on the footwork, blocking balls, coming out of the crouch to throw. That's the stuff that toughest to learn, so that's the stuff I'm working the most on."

Rafters Manager Ken Oberkfell, who also Managed the Mets Triple-A club in Norfolk this past season, knows that while Wilson's development at the plate is important, his work behind the plate is the priority.

"I'm going to try to get him at bats, but what we're really trying to do is get him work behind the plate. He'll work at first base as well, and we're really stressing his footwork. He's got the tools, it's just a matter of teaching him new things that he's never been asked to learn before. Can he do it? Absolutely, he just needs time."

There are typically two ways to look at a player who plays four and five different positions in the minors. Either they are projected as a Joe McEwing type player, a utility guy that will likely never find an everyday job in the Majors, or they are viewed as a David Ortiz type, able to struggle through at first, but really destined to move to the AL and become a designated hitter. Which one is Andy Wilson? Certainly not the utility guy, because that bat can play, and by the end of the AFL, he's hoping he can dismiss the designated hitter rumors as well.

"I just want to play, I love to hit, and I know I can hit. Some people talk about how I should move to an American League team and become a DH, but I see myself as a Met. I've been with this organization a long time, this is where I've come up, and where I know all the coaches and instructors. I'm making progress behind the plate, the Mets have a need behind the plate, and maybe that will be my ticket to the big leagues."

James Renwick covers the Arizona Fall League annually for

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