Well, Chris Sale was the first pitcher to catch my eye, but now it's time to take a look at a position player who has impressed me. Austin Wilson is a top high school prospect out of Harvard-Westlake High School in North Hollywood, California. He stands 6-4 and tips the scales at 200 lbs. He both bats and throws from the right side.
Wilson has tools that rival anyone in the draft, but, not unexpectedly for a high school player, he's a bit raw. As a result, he still struggles to efficiently translate his tools into maximum, tangible baseball production. Even so, his tools give him a ceiling that matches or exceeds that of any prospect in the draft this side of Bryce Harper.
Wilson has plus power, good speed, a plus arm, and enough range to competently handle all the outfield spots. His speed is above average when he gets underway, but his first step quickness isn't strong. Wilson's arm makes him a very good candidate for rightfield, which seems a likely destination for him, especially as he is likely to lose a bit of range when he continues to mature and fill out physically. However, he still has the long, lean body type and strong frame that should easily handle additionally weight. He shouldn't lose much athleticism with the addition of more muscle.
Wilson also has very good make-up and intelligence. His mother went to Stanford, while his father went to MIT. Austin has a good feel for the game and a very strong work ethic, which when coupled with his drive to succeed should help him make the most of his impressive physical gifts. Demonstrating a mature approach and an advanced understanding of the game, Wilson has spent the last year focusing on becoming a more complete hitter by working on keeping his hands inside the ball and driving it to rightfield.
At the plate, Wilson uses a fairly quiet setup and hits out of a bit of a crouch with a high back elbow. His stance is wide spread, which limits the length of his stride. Wilson uses a very small stride, essentially picking up his front foot slightly and setting it back down. While the stride is short, it still operates to transfer his weight and load up for the swing. However, the minimal stride and wide spread stance does limit his ability to cock his hips and incorporate his lower body into his swing. The inefficiency in incorporating the lower body leaves his swing with a deficit of power to be made up by the upper body. Fortunately, Wilson still generates plus power, as his upper body rotation is more than sufficient to offset the lack of lower body power production.
Wilson relies more on upper body rotation to power his swing than lower body and hip action. Fortunately, his upper body action is strong enough to generate substantial rotational energy, which allows him to generate very good bat speed, despite the lack of lower body drive. Wilson has a smooth, fluid swing that generates plus power, as evidenced by the bomb he hit at Wrigley field in the video clip below. He has power to all fields, though he still needs to refine his approach to better harness it. If he reaches his development ceiling, then he could be a 30+ homerun hitter on an annual basis at the MLB level, but continued refinement of his already strong swing mechanics could make a very well-rounded hitter as well.
In addition to his limited lower body action, Wilson also struggles with length in his swing. As a taller player, he has longer levers which take a bit longer to get started. He also uses a small bat waggle to keep loose while waiting for the pitch, which is rather normal. But, as he strides to meet the pitch, he tips the bat towards the pitcher. As a result, when he fires the swing, his bat his roughly at a 45 degree angle towards the pitcher, which is somewhat reminiscent of Gary Sheffield, though a bit less extreme. Sheffield was able to thrive with such a setup because of his absurd bat speed and very strong, quick hands and wrists. Still, too much bat tilt towards the pitcher can increase the distance the barrel of the bat has to travel to meet the pitch.
When you have longer levers, a high back elbow, and a bat pointed towards the pitcher when the swing is fired, then you are going to struggle with the length of your swing. All of those components can add length, so Wilson will need to continue tightening up his swing as he moves along the development curve. If not, he could be susceptible to good fastballs on the hands and good offspeed pitches on the outer half of the plate, though he seems to already understand the importance of working on problem areas to become a more complete hitter.
Here are a couple of looks at Austin Wilson in action:
Wilson's physical gifts would likely secure him a spot in the first 10 picks and preclude the Reds from getting a shot at him, but Wilson also comes with a high degree of signability risk. Wilson has committed to the University of Stanford and is widely considered to be one of the toughest signs in the 2010 draft class. That may result in him slipping down in the first round, which could make him available when the Reds pick 12th, but whether the Reds would be willing to pay what it takes to convince him to sign is a legitimate question.
Overall, Austin Wilson seems to be just about everything you'd like to see in a prospect. If he is available and the Reds are willing to go above slot to sign him, then he could be a very intriguing option for the Reds. He has the potential to be a true impact bat at the MLB level and his well-rounded game could make a very valuable player.
As of now, he certainly sits near the top of my wish list for the Reds.