If your team’s philosophy is anything other than drafting the Best Player Available™, they’re drafting wrong. Plain and simple. Adding optimal value to a farm system should always be the number one priority for any general manager looking to leverage talent into future wins. In the case of the Seattle Mariners, it help explains why they selected outfielder Zach DeLoach in the second round of the 2020 MLB Draft. DeLoach was arguably the second best hitter in all of college baseball from June 2019 through March of 2020. At the end of the day, if DeLoach doesn’t play for Mariners, his talent will eventually be used as anchorage to harbor a future trade.
That bring us to July 2021. As previously discussed, there are an awful lot of talented players available in next years draft. Maybe the most underrated, under-the-radar guy at the top of the first round is South Alabama outfielder Ethan Wilson. Playing for a mid-major like South Alabama will always bury your name a bit in term’s of garnering public notoriety. But once folks dig into the name, it’s easy to see why Wilson’s name is held in such high regard among draft circles.
Playing for South Alabama and being selected at the top of the first round isn’t unprecedented by any means. In 2018, Jaguar outfielder Travis Swaggerty was taken 10th overall. Wilson figures to be the second South Alabama outfielder selected in the first round in a four-year period.
This summer was going to be a monstrous opportunity for Wilson at the Cape Cod League. Playing against the top college players on a nightly basis and performing would have done wonders for his draft stock. Instead, he played ball for the Honor The Game League, a local wood bat league in Alabama. He was named to the league all-star game.
The fact of the matter is no college players have increased their stock this summer against diluted competition -- Wilson included. His value in the draft will be driven by his performances at school. In 2019 as a true freshman, Wilson slashed .345/.453/.686 in 56 games with 17 home runs. He ran a 20.4 percent K-rate and walked 16.4 percent of the time. His efforts earned him the distinction of Collegiate Baseball Co-Freshman of the Year.
2020, albeit abbreviated, was a little more muted. In 18 games, Wilson slashed .282/.329/.465 with three home runs. The strikeouts ballooned and the walks were down. That said, his batted-ball data was really strong. 10 of the 18 games were played against Vanderbilt, Arkansas, LSU and Vanderbilt. Quite a murderer’s row of non-conference contests.
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TOOLS (Future Value)
Wilson is a sturdy-built kid. He’s got a strong lower half and generates a lot of torque through his core. He employs a neutral stance at address with his hands high, dropping into an athletic slot in his loading mechanism. The move allows for an optimized vertical bat angle (VBA) coming through the zone, helping to impose launch angle on the baseball.
Wilson’s timing mechanism includes a toe-tap that has varied from 2019 to 2020. Depending on the pitch, it can sometimes be a single tap, other times a tap and a step. He had a lot of success in 2019 laying off pitches outside of the zone, and on more occasions than one, pummeled hanging breaking stuff in the zone. There was some propensity to swing under high fastballs with velocity up and away, especially coming from righties. In the four or five games I caught, good off-speed pitches gave Wilson some trouble when properly spotted just below the zone.
Wilson showed a keen ability to go with pitches, driving pitches away into left field and up the middle. He has enough speed to beat out some iffy infield choppers too.
In all, the numbers from his freshman year tell a pretty good tale. Hitting .345 with 17 home runs, all while posting healthy strikeout and walk rates, is impressive. I think the numbers posted in 2020 against sublime arms in a non-conference schedule skews his overall tool a bit. The kid can hit. If the strikeout numbers and walk rates revert back to 2019 standards next year, you might some scouts slap more 55-grade hit grades on Wilson’s profile.
There’s some real raw power in Wilson’s frame and he translates it into game production. It’s truly ‘plus’ juice. The only thing stopping him from consistently getting to the 60-grade in-game is the swing-and-miss. Wilson gets extended quite well on pitches low and inside, as well as out over the plate. The separation he creates with his hips from his shoulders is pretty impressive considering his bulky frame. His lead leg block is really strong as well. The byproduct is strong exit velocities thanks to torque unseen by most players at his level. For this to be optimized, the VBA has to be steep. It’s the same mechanism you see from guys like Kjerstad, or maybe in a more applicable comparison, Freddie Freeman. As long as the timing in his swing is on, and the pitch is in a go-zone, you’ll see some pretty impressive shots.
While Wilson did strikeout a good bit in 2020, he also ambushed some good arms along the way. He’d homer off Patrick Wicklander and Zebullon Vermillion in the same game against Arkansas in March. Both guys project as top five round picks in 2021.
The batted ball profile for Wilson really stands out. His average launch angle in 2019 was 18.3 degrees. It really doesn’t get much better than that. In 2020, his max exit velo was 111.7 mph, good for 10th in all of college baseball -- essentially the same as Spencer Torkelson. His average exit velocity for 2020 ranked in the 90th percentile of all college hitters.
There’s a lot to like about how Wilson can impact a baseball. In order for him to really reach his ceiling of a potential top five pick in 2021, he’ll need to beat up on premier pitching. Their non-conference schedule is yet to be unveiled, but it’ll be important he start strong in March and April.
Wilson is almost destined for left field in his big league career for a number of reasons, one of which being his ability to run. While plenty athletic, he’s not a burner. As a hitter, he’s a little slow out of the box as his follow-through ends up on his heels a bit -- common for left-handed power hitters. In the field, Wilson does well cutting off balls in the gap, but hasn’t shown the ability to turn improbable catches into outs.
From home-to-first at full-bore, Wilson is ordinarily timed in the 4.25 second range. That’s fringe average, though his acceleration out of the box does play into that time a bit. His 60-yard dash times vary quite a bit. I’ve seen numbers anywhere from 6.6 seconds to 6.8 seconds. Above average times for sure. That said, these were clocked 35 pounds ago, so that should be taken into consideration.
Wilson is by no means a lumbering defender in the field. He moves well and his speed projects to hold steady into his professional career. I don’t think he’s going to be an asset on the base paths or in the field, but he shouldn’t hurt whomever drafts him either. He’s solidly average as it pertains his wheels.
While the speed isn’t notable, the athleticism is. Wilson glides to most fly balls and takes good routes to the spot. He’s shown a really good ability to get the ball in quickly and hold runners. His natural athleticism has led some prognosticators to question whether or not he could handle centerfield. I don’t think that’ll be the case, the but conversation in and of itself should speak volumes.
At the end of the day, the speed will likely hold Wilson back from being considered a full-time centerfielder, but he fits in nicely in a corner. He’s plenty comfortable in either corner, and whomever ends up selecting Wilson should feel confident in his ability to handle his spot in-game.
Wilson’s got a good arm, and his athleticism and transfer speed helps it play up even more. His 91 mph outfield clock velo is very good. His throws are low line drives, but do have some tail and fade as they approach their target. Most of that is a product of his short-arm, 3⁄4 arm-slot. His arm is more often than not on-line, and as mentioned above, has shown the ability to keep runners from advancing.
The arm will certainly be better than most left fielders at the next level, and could play in right field as well.
Ethan Wilson is a very good prospect, and I do think he’s got the potential to ascend into top ten consideration next spring. His helium will be incumbent on performing against the best arms he faces early next year. The swing and miss concerns are something to watch, though the small sample size in 2020 after a blistering hot 2019 should quell some of those concerns. The batted-ball data is among the best in the class and there’s reason to believe he may be available to the Mariners with the 12th pick in the draft.