Buried Treasure Top 30 Prospects
#19 - Justin Wilson
Measurables: 6'2, 233
Bats: L, Throws: L
Acquired: 5th Round (144th), 2008
Buried Treasure 2012 Top 20: Not Ranked
Interestingly enough, of all the players in the Pirates organization, Wilson might be the most accomplished when it comes to winning. His last year at Frenso State, he helped lead the Bulldogs to a NCAA National Championship, closing out the final series over Georgia by pitching eight innings of five hit ball in a 6-1 victory. By this time, the Pirates had already drafted Wilson in the 5th round and despite his heroism in the College World Series, they managed to sign him for slot money. That was somewhat surprising as Wilson didn't sign until two days before the signing deadline in August. As a result, he did not appear in any minor league games in 2008.
The Pirates challenged Wilson to start his pro career, sending him immediately to High-A. He struggled out of the gate, having issues with his command. Those issues led to high walk rates and a large amount - fourteen to be exact - of homeruns given up. However, Wilson finally broke through in July, posting a 2.61 ERA for the final two months of the season compared to a 6.58 ERA up until July. On the season, Wilson posted a 4.50 ERA, 7.29 K/9, and 4.27 BB/9 in 116.0 innings. He finished the year right before his 22nd birthday in August.
The Pirates were pleased enough with Wilson's performance in 2010 that they promoted him to Double-A to start the 2010 season. There, he pitched pretty well, finishing the season with a 3.09 ERA in 142.2 innings. However, the improvement wasn't as drastic as it seems on the surface. Wilson did see his strikeout rate bump a bit to 8.45 K/9, but so did his walk rate from 4.27 to 4.48 BB/9. The major difference for Wilson was that his HR/9 dropped from 1.09 in 2009 to 0.25 in 2010, which probably came partly from genuine improvement and partly from luck. Still, as the 2010 season came before Wilson's 23rd birthday, it was a fairly successful one.
2011 brought another promotion for Wilson, this time to the top rung of the minor league ladder, Triple-A. This time, Wilson struggled overall, having his worst statistical year of his professional career. That said, there was one interesting and positive - at least in one sense - development. After pitching well in the rotation in April to start the year, Wilson struggled with his control as the season progressed. The Pirates responded by moving him to the bullpen in August, where he pitched nine times, including in the closer role. In relief, Wilson reportedly lit up radar guns, touching 99 mph with his fastball, incredible velocity, especially for a lefty. On the season, Wilson finished with his worst K/9 rate by far at 6.80 and saw his BB/9 rise again, although only a slight amount to 4.85. All this came in a total of 124.1 innings. It was fairly clear that Wilson was far from ready to advance to the majors, at least in a starting role
In 2012, the Pirates decided to send Wilson back to Triple-A and back to the rotation. He responded with a much better retrial at Indianapolis. Wilson pitched 135.2 innings on the year in the minors, starting 25 games out of 29 appearances His strikeout rate soared to 9.15 K/9 on the season and his walk rate also dropped a little to 4.38 BB/9. In addition, opposing batters only hit .189 off him total and left-handers fared even worse, hitting .129 off Wilson. Overall, apart from the walk rate, those are dominating numbers. In September, as the season neared it's completion, Wilson was rewarded with a promotion to the big league club. For the Pirates he pitched 4.2 innings in relief, giving up 1 earned run on 10 hits, 3 walks, and 7 strikeouts.
Wilson has great stuff, especially for a southpaw. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90's and he can ratchet up a bit if he needs too. It also has significant movement, although that leads to Wilson's control and command issues. Due to his stuff, Wilson has the upside of a number two starter. However, his control at the moment makes it nearly impossible for him to even inhabit the back-end of a rotation. If Wilson can really improve his command, he could fit into the middle of the Pirates rotation for years. More likely, he'll end up in the bullpen, where short stints can mask his command issues to a degree and he can be a dominant power lefty reliever. At age 25 as of August, Wilson is essentially ready for the show, although he could use just a tad more of Triple-A seasoning. It's sink or swim time.