Cubs prospect DJ Wilson did not have a June to remember. In fact, he’d probably like to forget the first half of July as well. Wilson was hitting only .155, though an OBP that sat 120 points higher showed that there was at least one good thing about his season. On July 21, Wilson, who had been the leadoff hitter for the Eugene Emeralds, was moved to the number nine spot in the order. Since then, his world turned upside down literally and figuratively.[beautifulquote align=”right”]Getting $1.3 million right out of high school has a tendency to change a kid’s mind.[/beautifulquote]
The Cubs selected Wilson, an outfielder and the top-ranked position player in the state of Ohio, in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. Though he had previously committed to Vanderbilt, getting $1.3 million right out of high school has a tendency to change a kid’s mind. Scouts loved Wilson’s speed and hit tool, but did not foresee much power in his left-handed bat. That has changed quickly in the last year.
Wilson made his debut in the Arizona Rookie League last summer in two stints. Stint number one only lasted 4 games in July. He went away for three weeks, came back, and then proceeded to hit .266 over the next 18 games. He drew 6 walks in 79 at bats and struck out 15 times. Nothing to rave about. It was in fall instructs, however, that Wilson made his biggest leap in development. He finished second in the HR Derby finale (Eloy Jimenez was forbidden to take part) to Kwang-Min Kwon, and the flash of power was exciting as it was something that was not really seen or written about in many profiles or reports.
The hopes for Wilson entering his first full season of pro ball were good. MLB.com ranked him in the low teens on their prospect list to begin the season, saying:
Wilson’s best tool is his well above-average speed, which helps him reach base, wreak havoc once he does and play a quality center field. He focuses on putting the ball in play with his compact left-handed swing and has enough sneaky power to produce double-digit home run totals […] Wilson has excellent instincts in center field, with his quickness, reads and routes combining to give him plenty of range. He has an average, accurate arm as well.
Wilson’s poor first month hitting in the Northwest League for Eugene did not hurt the team because he contributed in other ways. His defense in center was spectacular at times and his speed on the basepaths helped to negate some of the stink coming off his bat. Things changed, though, and for the better.[beautifulquote align=”right”]Hits started coming in bunches, some of them home runs.[/beautifulquote]
When Wilson was moved to the nine hole in the lineup, it all began to click for him. Hits started coming in bunches, some of them home runs. When I watched during this stretch, the ball was really jumping off his bat. Strangely, his second-half surge came on the road, where Wilson is hitting .343 versus .190 at Eugene.
After the All-Star Break, Wilson shot out of the chute going 8-for-14 with 2 home runs and 6 RBI. He was figuring things out. The last couple weeks have seen him cool off a bit, but not too much. He has even appeared back at the top of the lineup occasionally.
Even though it took three weeks to warm up in July, he hit .279 with a .350 OBP while blasting 2 HRs and driving in 15 for the month. Strangely, he only stole 2 bases. In August, he is transforming into a doubles machine, hitting 8 two-baggers and slugging .471 for the month. He has hit for a solid .309 average and shown great discipline at the plate with only 13 Ks to boot. The walks have dropped off, as he only has two for the month, but he has swiped nine bases here in August.
What I have enjoyed about watching DJ Wilson late at night this summer is that he is a truly exciting all-around player. He never gets cheated at the plate and he is very exciting to watch in the field as he has great instincts, takes excellent routes, and flies to the ball. Honestly, there are times I prefer to watch him play defense. Then again, the way he hits first base and motors to second is a thing of beauty. He is one of the most thrilling two-way players the Cubs have in the system.
Wilson seems to be peaking at the right time. With just one week remaining in the regular season, he should be able to carry his success over to the postseason. The Emeralds have the best record in the Northwest League, including winning 15 games in a row at one point. Wilson’s play is a big part of that success.
He should begin 2017 with South Bend at the age of 19, more than two years younger than the league average. The key for him, just like this year, will be to make adjustments, trust his approach, and maintain discipline at the plate. He will get his walks, hopefully, and will be a joy to watch fly around center field.
But for now, Wilson and the Emeralds still have some unfinished business in the playoffs.