Welcome to Over the Monster’s One Big Question series. For those unfamiliar, this is something of a season roster preview where over the next 40(ish) (week)days we’ll be taking a look at each player on the 40-man roster prior to the season. If changes are made to the roster between now and Opening Day, we’ll cover the newly added players. Rather than previewing what to expect in a general sense, the goal of this series is to find one singular question — sometimes specific, other times more general — for each player heading into the coming season. We’ll go alphabetically one by one straight down the roster, and you can catch up with the series here. Today, we cover Marcus Wilson.
The Question: Can Marcus Wilson make enough contact to get to the next level?
In addition to the other things that are worrisome about the Red Sox roster, their farm system is still towards the bottom of baseball in terms of national opinion. I do think part of that is due to how these things are graded, as top end talent matters the most and the Red Sox don’t have a ton of that. Adding Jeter Downs helped, but they still don’t have a top-50 prospect by most lists. That said, their depth I think is better than it had been in recent years. Of course, I’m not really an unbiased observer. Anyway, I bring this up because there are high-level prospects that are exciting to watch this year even if they aren’t quite on the national radar to a major extent. That list includes guys like Bobby Dalbec, Tanner Houck, Jarren Duran, CJ Chatham, Downs and Bryan Mata.
Wilson is among that group as well, though he’s something of a forgotten man. Obviously part of that is the simple fact that he is not as well regarded as the other names, but he has a real chance to be in the majors soon. The outfielder was a relatively recent addition to the organization, coming to Boston after a trade with the Diamondbacks with Blake Swihart going the other way. We went into his background a little bit deeper here, but as a quick recap of last year he was extremely up and down, starting with a brutal stretch in Portland before a demotion to Salem and subsequent surge there. Wilson then got promoted back to Portland and had a very solid finish to his season. In the offseason he was added to the 40-man roster as he was eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft had he not been added.
We’re going to get to the major flaw in his game, which is mentioned in those big ol’ words in the headline up top, but first it’s worth mentioning the pros. After all, the Red Sox added the 23-year-old who had never played above Double-A to the 40-man roster. Teams don’t do that if there’s nothing to like. In Wilson’s case, there are a couple of things. For one, he is very athletic. Wilson runs very well, which he obviously uses on the bases but he also combines that with solid (though still a bit raw) instincts in the field to play a good center field. He’s not Jackie Bradley Jr. or anything out there, but he certainly holds his own. On top of that, he also has big power potential at the plate. It hadn’t really shown up in his numbers to a real degree until last year, but the raw power has always been apparent to scouts.
Part of the reason he has trouble consistently tapping into that raw power? You guessed it! (I assume.) Wilson has a real issue making contact. I just mentioned that Wilson’s power hadn’t always shown itself in obvious fashion in the low minors but scouts always saw it. The same is true with his swing and miss. In the lower minors that didn’t always translate to super high strikeout rates — he generally sat in the mid-20 percent range in the lower levels, which isn’t great but doesn’t jump off the page these days. Part of it is Wilson’s ability to lay off bad pitches, which is always a good quality but is particularly useful against raw, unpolished low-minors arms. He also just didn’t see as good of pitching that was as able to take advantage of his flaws.
In 2019, though, pitchers got the best of him everywhere he went. In Portland specifically, he struck out 34.5 percent of the time, a rate that simply doesn’t work as you move up the ladder. His power made up for it in overall numbers, but even in his second stint when he performed much better he struck out 30 percent of the time. On the one hand, strikeouts have never mattered less for a batters profile. Joey Gallo has more swing and miss than just about anyone else in baseball and is still an elite hitter when he’s healthy. On the other hand, there is still a cutoff, and if you are striking out 34 percent of the time in Double-A, it’s only going to get worse in the majors without an adjustment.
So, for Wilson, he needs to make that adjustment. This will be his first full season (or whatever we call what’s going to happen this year) with the Red Sox development staff, which for all of the deserved gruff it gets for the pitching side of things has been outstanding with hitters. Wilson needs to be better against offspeed offerings, which is always a hard adjustment but not an impossible one. If he can make that adjustment, though, a major-league debut in 2020 is not out of the question. He has J.D. Martinez, Kevin Pillar, Tzu-Wei Lin and José Peraza in front of him on the depth chart, but only Pillar is a true outfielder of that group. Wilson is a boom-or-bust kind of prospect, but if he can make contact he’s a lot closer to the boom, and as he’s already on the 40-man roster it’s time for him to make that case whenever they get a chance to get back on the field.