Welcome to the annual Over The Monster One Big Question season preview series. Over the next 40(ish) days, we will be running through every player on the 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. This should run us up to the start of the season, at least as it is scheduled now. We will go through the roster in alphabetical order. For the most part, these will run Monday through Friday every week running up to the week before Opening Day, though expect some weekend posts mixed in as well as the 40-man is expected to continue to be altered before the start of the season. You can catch up with every post by following this link. Today we take a look at Marcus Wilson.
The Question: Where does Marcus Wilson stand in this organization?
Looking around the Red Sox roster, one area that continues to stand out to me as a deficiency is in the outfield. They just seem to lack some depth there. Granted, a good chunk of that potential issue is eased by the fact that they have a whole lot of infielders who can play out there, ranging from someone like Michael Chavis who can play left field in a pinch to someone like Kiké Hernández who can play near Gold Glove caliber. But in terms of true outfielders, they don’t have a whole hell of a lot.
In terms of minor-league depth, they have Jarren Duran, though that’s probably more of midseason depth than right away. In the shorter-term, if they needed a true outfielder early in the year they’re probably looking at César Puello or Michael Gettys, or perhaps Yairo Muñoz depending on if you think he’s a true outfielder or true infielder. The point I’m trying to make here is that there is both not a lot of depth, and throughout all of this I have not named Marcus Wilson, who is the only player in this paragraph who actually is on the 40-man roster. That’s indicative of the less-than-ideal position in which he finds himself looking ahead to the coming season.
Wilson was a second round pick back in 2014 by the Diamondbacks, forgoing a commitment at Arizona State in order to start his professional career out of high school. He always has had some pretty loud tools, but until 2019 the power never really showed up in games on a consistent basis. It was early in that season that he was shipped to Boston in exchange for Blake Swihart. Wilson had started his power breakout in his two-week stint with the D-Backs before the trade, and continued it in Portland after. Following that season, he was placed on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
Last year, however, he found himself in a very tough position after the shutdown and at the start of the Alternate Site workouts. Despite being on the 40-man, he was not included in Boston’s 60-player pool in Pawtucket, making him one of two players on the 40-man not participating. The other was Yoan Aybar, who was traded to the Rockies this past winter to make room on the 40-man roster. Wilson is still on the 40-man, but it’s worth wondering how long that can be tenable.
I do want to avoid painting a picture that shows him as a player who is by no means worth keeping in the organization. Wilson has talent, which is the reason he has survived all of the many 40-man decisions that have come over the last few months. As I mentioned earlier, the guy has tools. He’s a very good athlete who can use plus speed to his advantage both on the bases and in the field, where he can play all three spots including a good center field. At the plate, he has the aforementioned power, putting up a .223 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) across High-A and Double-A in 2019. Power, speed and defense is a hell of a combination.
Of course, it’s not quite as simple as having the tools. There also needs to be some refinement in getting those tools, and specifically the power, to play in game action. For Wilson, that means making more contact. The good news on this front is it’s not a lack of patience doing him in, as he has consistently carried high walk rates in his professional career. Rather, he struggles to get wood on non-fastballs, and his swing is just not conducive to high contact rates. In High-A, he carried strikeout rates around 28 percent, and in Double-A they jumped up to about 33 percent.
Wilson is still only 24, so it’s not as though he’s some kind of lost cause, but as I said he’s also in this weird zone with the Red Sox where it’s not entirely clear where his window to contribute is. Early in the season he’s not really going to be in the discussion. Like Duran, he has not played above Double-A, and unlike Duran he did not have a monster showing at the Alternate Site, winter ball and/or spring training. Wilson needs some at bats, and he’s not going to get those as a bench call up in the majors. So, a short-term impact is largely out of the question.
Shifting over to the medium-term, as in roughly midseason 2021, this would seem to be the best chance for Wilson, but there are factors in his way there as well. For one thing, that’s not a whole lot of time for him to “prove it” in the minors since that season doesn’t begin until May. On top of that, he has Duran to compete with at that point, not to mention Puello and Gettys still likely being in the picture. Plus, if Wilson starts in Portland as Sox Prospects projects, Jeisson Rosario is then on a similar timeline as well. I think Rosario would probably be a bit behind, but crazier things have happened.
So then we look to the long-term plans, and things are still dicey. Again, Duran is there. Rosario is there. Alex Verdugo is hopefully a long-term fixture in the outfield. Hunter Renfroe and/or Franchy Cordero could solidify their places in the long-term. Gilberto Jimenez will be moving up the ladder. Wilson has some advantages over some of these players if you squint hard enough, but that’s suddenly a crowded group in which it is fairly easy to get lost.
And so we’re left with a really shaky picture for the former Diamondbacks prospect as he burns another option in 2021. He’ll have one left after this year, and there is no clear path for him to contribute on this roster now or in the future. The good news for him? He absolutely has the talent to change that. If Wilson goes out and dominates Double-A for two months, we’ll be looking at him in a much different light. It’s fair to wonder if he can last that long, though. If more 40-man spots are needed, how many more of these situations can he beat out? Everyone wants to get off to a hot start every year, but Wilson specifically, in this season specifically, pretty much needs it.