Top 50 Prospects #6 - Brian Wilson

The puns are there. Come on, you know you want to slip a Beach Boys reference in there. But the thing about Brian Wilson is that with his mid 90's (and growing) fastball, tough slider and biting curveball, his career won't be a joke. No, he has the best shot of becoming the Giants next closer, and being good at it, too.

Date of Birth: 03/16/1982 Position: P Height: 6'1" Weight: 205 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 24th Round (#723 Overall) of the 2003 Draft
2005 Stats
Augusta - Low A 5 1 0.82 26 0 13 33.0 23 7 3 0 7 30 .190 2.58
Norwich - AA 0 0 0.57 15 0 8 15.2 6 1 1 0 5 22 .115 1.40
Fresno - AAA 1 1 3.97 9 0 0 11.1 8 7 5 0 8 13 .238 0.31
Mesa - AFL 1 3 6.11 10 1 1 17.2 21 15 12 0 12 15 N/A N/A

Can the utopian, laid back beats of the Beach Boys possibly be appropriate music for a closer?  Giants fans may find out soon enough.

Okay, that should be the last Beach Boys reference out of us, because the coincidentally named Brian Wilson is a big enough prospect to not need silly jokes about his name to be remembered.  Wilson did the very rare feat of climbing levels in 2005, starting in the lowest full season level at Low-A Augusta, and finishing the season at the very top of the minor league ladder in AAA Fresno.  He gained quite a bit of notoriety along the way, and has become a familiar name to Giants fans along the way.

Wilson’s pro career didn’t start out so well.  He had been a star pitcher at Louisiana State in college, a reliever turned starter and was a top prospect before his 2003 season ended early because of Tommy John surgery.  Surprisingly, the Giants took a chance on him in the 24th round, and even more surprisingly, Wilson signed despite have eligibility left in college that might’ve helped him up his stock again.  When Wilson was healthy enough to pitch in 2004, it was ugly.  He had a 5.34 ERA in 23 games at Low-A Hagerstown.

However, Wilson came into 2005 motivated and in much better shape, and the changes couldn’t have been better.  He dominated the South Atlantic League at the new Giants affiliate in Augusta, and got a midseason promotion straight to Norwich, skipping San Jose.  He did even better in AA, and 15 games later, he went to Fresno, where he finished the season getting hit a little harder.

Giants fans may actually be somewhat familiar with Brian Wilson from after the regular season, when he represented the Giants in the Arizona Fall League and did a regular player journal.  He showed his good humor (calling a spot start he made not only not up to par, but not up to a triple-bogey), and revealed a few things about his pitching style and preferences, the most notable comment being that he prefers relieving to starting.

That’s good news for the Giants, since Wilson has classic closer stuff.  His low 90’s fastball peaked in the middle of the season, breaking 96 a few times, and could get even stronger as his arm gets healthier and back into throwing shape.  For the early part of the season, he threw a good slider only with it, but started experimenting late in the season and the fall with a changeup, and working his curveball back into his repertoire.  His curve could be the most important pitch, as it was one of his best in college, but he hadn’t thrown it much since his TJ surgery.

In a system full of relievers, Wilson has the most potential.  Aside from his stuff, he has a great attitude for being a closer, having the sense of humor to shake off bad outings and come back even stronger.  He’ll turn 24 in spring training, and has the potential to become a top shelf closer.

Before he does that, though, he has one more step to make.  And how soon that step happens depends on a decision he has to make.  Two notable things appear in his progression over the season.  He became a better strikeout pitcher later in the season, even at Fresno where he had nearly a 4 ERA, but his groundball/flyball ratio dropped precipitously from the 2.58 ratio in Augusta to 0.31 in Fresno.  Wilson will have to decide if he should concentrate on getting the safe groundballs, or going for strikeouts, which can sometimes leave him open to getting hammered.  Wilson still has things to learn about pitching and the finer points of the game, and with the likelihood he’ll be working closely with Trevor Wilson in Fresno, he should pick those things up all that much quicker.

So yes, Wilson’s immediate future appears to be a return to Fresno, especially since several other young relievers have a head start in the bullpen competition for the big league team in 2006.  But don’t expect Wilson to stay in Fresno for long.  Barring catastrophe, Wilson will not only make his major league debut in 2006, but show the signs of why he could be anchoring a bullpen for many years to come.

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