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Digging for Diamonds: Kyle Wilcox

Welcome to ‘Digging for Diamonds’, a series in which we’ll take a look at a few under the radar Mariners prospects, all of whom have the potential to become something more than a name we forget on a ‘Name the 2019 Seattle Mariners’ Sporcle Challenge.

First up is Kyle Wilcox, a hard-throwing RHP the Mariners selected in the 6th round of the 2015 MLB Draft. Wilcox made his pro debut last season in Everett, recording 24 strikeouts, a 1.16 WHIP, and a .185 BAA in 23.1 IP.

Why He’s Under the Radar

Prior to the Mariners drafting him in 2015, Wilcox’s entire life and career were spent tucked away in the northeast corner of the United States. He was born and raised in the small village of Sandy Hook, Connecticut before moving on to play college ball at Bryant University, a private school in Smithfield, Rhode Island that has just over 3,600 students enrolled.

While it’s not impossible to get noticed in the area–George Springer, Matt Harvey, and Evan Scribner are a few of the current major leaguers who hail from Connecticut–Wilcox never made quite enough noise at Bryant to grab significant attention from teams (not that getting drafted in the sixth round is anything to scoff at).

This isn’t to say Wilcox was a model of perfection that scouts simply ignored. In his three seasons at Bryant, Wilcox posted a 5.21 BB/9 and frequently struggled to go deep into games. In his sophomore campaign, he surrendered nearly as many walks (36) as he did hits (43).

When you mix in the fact that his velocity took a slight dip after transitioning to the rotation his sophomore year, it’s understandable why some scouts and analysts may view him as too much of a project to hold in any sort of high regard at the moment.

Why he may not be under the radar for long

When you watch Wilcox, one of the first things about him that will stand out is his athleticism. Standing at 6’3" and 180 pounds, he’s a natural athlete who very well could’ve put together a modest college basketball career had he not chosen baseball. Virtually any article you find on him will mention something about his freakish athleticism (specifically his vertical, dunking ability, and speed) with his college coach saying he was the fastest player on the team.

Considering all of this, it’d be foolish to think there isn’t plenty of untapped potential sitting just below the surface should the Mariners manage to get the most out of the righty.

As for the general concept of being a pitcher who throws baseballs, there’s still a massive amount of room for Wilcox to grow. When he arrived at Bryant, he was a thin righty who relied on poorly-located, 97 mph fastballs to get hitters out, which resulted in a fun, but ultimately ineffective freshman season. It wasn’t until his sophomore year that he sacrificed velocity for command and began serious development as a pitcher. As previously mentioned, this corresponded with a shift from the bullpen to the rotation, where he saw his numbers rapidly improve over the next two seasons:

IP

H/9

BB/9

HR/9

K/BB

WHIP

2013

12.0

10.50

10.50

0.75

0.86

2.33

2014

59.2

6.49

5.43

0.15

1.28

1.32

2015

80.2

6.81

4.24

0.00

1.32

1.23

Perhaps the best indicator of his progress comes in these two videos, shot a year apart.

It looks like you're watching two different pitchers. His release in the second video still has some funkiness to it, but the herky-jerky nature of his delivery in the first video is long gone and he appears to be far more in control of his followthrough.

His command is still a work in progress, but it’s important to consider he’s only about to enter his third (possibly second) year of a being a pitcher as opposed to a guy who throws baseballs as hard as he can in the general vicinity of the catcher’s mitt. Couple that with the fact that he boasts a mid-90s fastball with movement, a changeup, and a hard curveball that all have above average potential, and you have the makings of a promising young pitching prospect. Of course, patience will be key with Wilcox.

Projecting Wilcox’s Timeline

Unfortunately for us, Wilcox’s potential journey to the big leagues is absurdly difficult to predict due to several factors at play. With the new Dipoto-led regime in place, it’s hard to say whether Wilcox will be groomed as a reliever, a starter, or a reliever with the intentions of turning him into a starter down the road. Should they choose to develop him as a reliever, Wilcox could be a few mechanical tweaks and a season away from being placed on the fast track to the major leagues, following in the footsteps of Carter Capps, Carson Smith, Stephen Pryor and so on.

If they opt to move him back into the rotation sooner rather than later, Wilcox is likely looking at a much slower road to the show. Until his command issues are sorted out, it’s hard to imagine him shooting through the ranks while being exposed to multiple trips through the lineup each appearance.

In Closing

Wilcox will be a project for the Mariners, but all things considered, he’ll be one worth working on. With enough patience and effort, he has the potential to develop into a solid back of the rotation option with a fireballing, late-inning reliever role always on the back burner should he not work out as a starter.