By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — The moment Austin Wilson stepped onto the field at Everett Memorial Stadium, he was unmistakable.
Wilson cuts an imposing presence. At 6-foot-5, he towers above many of his Everett AquaSox teammates. He’s listed at 245 pounds, but he still has more of the lean appearance of a sprinter than the bulky look of a shot putter.
No doubt, Wilson stands out in a crowd.
“Yeah, he’s a physical specimen,” Everett manager Rob Mummau agreed. “He’s 6-5, has a lot of muscle, probably two-percent body fat. He’s a real good-looking kid.”
The Seattle Mariners are banking that Wilson’s physical gifts translate into major-league stardom.
Wilson became one of the top prospects on the AquaSox roster when he joined the team last weekend, and the Mariners are hoping his power stroke blossoms during his time in Everett.
“I’m going to try and unleash the beast as much as I can in Everett,” Wilson said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Wilson, a 21-year-old outfielder from Los Angeles, was Seattle’s second-round pick in this year’s draft out of Stanford University. He’s considered a prospect with tremendous tools, given his combination of size, strength and speed.
Before the college season Wilson was considered a first-round talent for the draft. However, he suffered through an injury-plagued junior campaign as he developed a stress reaction on the tip of his right elbow just before the season began. He tried playing in Stanford’s opening game, but was unable to swing properly and ended up sitting out six weeks. Missing half the season was part of the reason why Wilson was still available for the Mariners at the 49th-overall pick.
“I don’t think (the injury) affected me baseball-wise,” Wilson said. “If it was a pro season they would have sent me to Arizona, I would have gotten at bats and gotten back into a groove. I thought me at 80 percent, given my experience, I could help my team. I did help my team, but from a standpoint of being able to show what I could do, I didn’t feel I could really do that because I wasn’t back in baseball shape. I was healthy, but I couldn’t really show people what I could do.”
The other scouting concern about Wilson was that, despite his obvious strength, it never fully translated into power numbers during his time in college. Wilson hit five home runs in 55 games as a freshman, 10 homers in 59 games as a sophomore, then five in 31 games as a junior. His slugging percentage topped out at .493 as a sophomore, which is a good number, but perhaps not what one would consider elite.
There’s some suggestion in the scouting community that his low power numbers could be a product of playing for Stanford. The Cardinal has a reputation of emphasizing opposite-field hitting, which could lessen power numbers. Wilson dispelled that notion to a degree, but not completely.
“It’s a stereotype Stanford has, that they have punch-and-judy hitters,” Wilson said. “I don’t really think that’s true, but it is what it is.
“I wouldn’t say they de-emphasize power, I’d just says it’s a lack of hitting teaching,” Wilson added. “Power is something you don’t really learn in an environment where people are trying to win. It’s nothing against the Stanford coaching, it’s just not an environment for developing power hitters.”
Wilson could have returned to Stanford for his senior season to try and improve his stock with a healthy season and get into the first round. However, he said there was never any doubt he’d sign with the Mariners.
“No, I’m ready for pro ball,” Wilson responded when asked if going back to college was a consideration. “I’m ready to get this thing started.
“The second round is still exceptional, I’m still happy with that.”
Baseball America reported that Wilson received a $1.7 million signing bonus. That was $590,000 more than the slot value for the 49th pick, and it’s the largest signing bonus given to a second rounder so far. (Wilson was the 10th player selected in the second round).
Now that he’s begun his professional career, Wilson is confident he’ll show more power with Everett than he was able to show during his time at Stanford.
“Yeah, I definitely think I do (have more power),” Wilson said. “That’s what pro ball is all about. I’m going to go out there and unleash the beast.”
That’s something both the Sox and Mariners are looking forward to.