of August 21,
MLB’s league wide slugging percentage in 2014 is .385. One will
count 57 of the 95 seasons in the live ball era that have had
superior slugging totals. The last time the league slugged at that
level was in 1992, when .377 was the number.
for perspective, the peak came in 2000 at .437 and the valley
occurred in 1968 at .340. Quick math shows the spot in which we live
today; therefore amateur power is at a premium.
it’s a polished explosive bat like that of Florida prep shortstop
Brendan Rodgers, ranked as the No. 2 overall player in the United
States by Perfect Game, or the raw slugging ability of Luken Baker,
who despite being the No. 3 righthanded
Texas according to PG, has gained arguably more notoriety in winning
several home run derbies on a large stages this summer.
I thought I’d connect with a former player that fit the mold of
“raw” early in his career and get inside his head about growth
that he experienced or pitfalls he may have encountered. This in part
because it feels as if more truly unpolished big bats may enter the
pro ranks, simply based on their coveted skill of slugging the
Ehrhardt High School, S.C. star Preston Wilson was the Mets first
round pick in 1992. It was evident right away that he had the bat and
the strength that made him the ninth pick overall. The home runs
never seemed to run dry, with 83 total in 402 games below AA. But as
an 18- and 19-year-old, he learned quickly that he hadn’t come
close to figuring it all out, despite bearing a knowledge of the game
far greater than many of his peers because of his adopted father
just remember always wanting to work,” Preston shared. “Baseball
is this whole world of information; it’s not just talent, its
information. The work is not always on the field, sometimes it’s
who you talk to in the information you gather. I remember being in
the minor leagues and every time I saw someone that I respected or I
liked from watching when I was younger or that I knew anything about
the way they went about the game or their philosophies, I would ask
remember going to George Hendrick, who was coaching for the Cardinals
at the time, in Savannah, Georgia and saying, ‘Is there anything
that you can let me know that I am doing wrong or might be able to do
better. Anything I can make an adjustment with? After the series send
me a note after we’re done playing you guys.’ I started with that
and it kind of went on from there, because every time I saw somebody
(like Hendrick) I would do it. I would say probably 90 percent of the
time, I got some type of answer back.
doesn’t fit your body type or your philosophy or your swing, but as
a player you need to be able to be open and listen and learn. I also
remember being in the cage all of the time just trying to understand
myself. Because when you’re young the biggest thing is
understanding what you’re capable of and, even bigger,
understanding what you’re not capable of. Where are the holes in
your swing? What do you need to fix? What do you need to make better?
That comes with just work and understanding yourself.”
after 108 minor league homers in parts of six seasons, Preston found
himself in the big leagues with the Mets and then the Marlins,
following a trade involving Mike Piazza. There were a pair of
occasions on his journey that he gained the solid footing in his
beliefs that he truly belonged at the highest level.
went on for me at two stages, let’s start with AA (Binghamton,
N.Y., 1997),” Wilson recalled. “In AA, there was a time that I
went there and I realized that I could compete. I realized that these
are guys that are close to the Major Leagues; therefore I
am close to the Major Leagues. I knew that I could compete with those
guys. I saw my talent compared with theirs and I really knew that I
could play. I knew that when I stepped on the field, that I was one
of the better players. It got recognized by them as well shortly
after I went down. I hit like 19 home runs in the second half of AA.
second time was when I got to the big leagues and I’m on the field
and I’m playing for the Mets, my first call up. I think I went
3-for-4 my first game, 3-for-4 my second game, then all of a sudden
there was just a calm that happened. I felt like the work that I put
in mattered. Attention to detail that was paid mattered, and that I
could compete in the Major Leagues. Now I didn’t get a hit for a
couple of games after that, but I felt my talent could compete at the
Major League level.
it was like two stages. First it was the minor leagues, the getting
there, I felt like I could get there from AA. Then once I played in
the big leagues, I felt like, ‘I’ve got a chance to stay here.’”
stay he did as Wilson worked his way up to a peak run of 113 homeruns
from 2000-2003, while managing to reign in his aggression. From
1998-2000 his MLB strikeout rate was 28.5 percent and for the
remainder of his career that ended in 2007, he shifted it to 22.8
percent. How, and why?
think it was mental for me because I had to understand when people
weren’t trying to pitch to
me,” Wilson added. “I think the surrounding cast around me got
better throughout the years, so I was able to strikeout less. My
first couple of years with the Marlins, I was hitting cleanup in my
second year and some of my first year as well. So I was 'the
guy' in the lineup.
when you’re a rookie or a second year player and you’re a cleanup
hitter, there are going to be times when teams are going to come
after you. Then there’s going to be time when they look down the
lineup and they’re going to think, ‘There’s nobody else in
there really that dangerous.’ Mike Lowell hadn’t come into his
own yet. I was protecting Cliff Floyd; he was the other big bat.
D-Lee hadn’t become Derek Lee yet. I was one of the only big bats
in the lineup and I didn’t understand that they weren’t trying to
pitch to me.
didn’t learn to lay off of some of those pitches, especially with
men in scoring position. I still was able to drive in a lot of runs.
I still was able to be productive, but I learned later on in my
career that your supporting cast matters as far as how they are going
to go after you. It was really learning myself, learning the league
and learning my surrounding cast.”
Director of Pro Scouting Tom Allison was a few notches up the ladder
from Preston as an infielder in the Mets organization. With his
scout’s eye, Tom looked back on what he saw of the young, raw
slugger in his system.
was so athletic and aggressive early in his career,” Allison
recalled. “He could take your breath away when he launched balls or
struck out – which he did a lot early – however, he was a
tremendous worker and kept getting better and better with his strike
zone knowledge. Another thing that allowed him to gather those
learning [at-bats] was that his good outfield play. This guy played
hard and smart defense. Easier to allow the bat to develop when the
player helps the club on the others side of the ball.”
Preston, who prides himself in the fact that his glove rarely, if
ever, had him out of the action late in games, knows that it was the
explosiveness in his bat that gave him the opportunity to attempt to
fine tune the other areas of his game.
think early on that I was definitely a raw talent because I had
something that you couldn’t teach,” Wilson said. “I had power
to all fields and there was no ballpark that was too big for me. I
played in Pro Player Stadium down there in Florida, which was a big
ballpark. I played in RFK, where the gaps were 395 and 394 [feet]
respectively. I played in Colorado after they put in the humidor. I
played in big parks my whole career so I really think I had raw
had to learn to be a better hitter and to be a situational hitter. I
think I got to the big leagues because I was able to apply a lot of
the things that I learned. But with the bat speed and the power that
I had to all fields, that was something that was just there. It was
worked on and of course you do all of your drills when you are young
to maximize the skills that you have, but I wasn’t one of those
guys that could just hit .300. When I learned that about myself, I
became comfortable with who I was.”
watching today’s center fielders that can slug the baseball,
players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, Preston
realizes how unique they are historically, as he has covered some of
the same patches of green grass in their shoes.
look at these guys and I know what they’re up against,” Wilson
added. “Because when you play center field and you are a power
hitter, those two things don’t usually go together.
about guys from the past, I’ll go back a little bit, like Willie
Mays or Ken Griffey, Jr and now Trout, Harper, McCutchen, those guys
are so rare to have power and play center field. They have added
responsibilities because when you’re the center fielder you have to
know where every hitter is to be played. You have to know where your
left and right fielder should be playing in correlation to you. You
have to understand what the pitcher’s trying to do to every hitter.
Where does he want contact? Where does he want the ball to be hit in
the air? You have to be able to anticipate that.
not only with that responsibility, but to carry the load offensively,
Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen, every year they can be
the MVP of their team. I marvel at them. I know they took it to a
level that I didn’t reach as far as their ability.
to put that responsibility on themselves and to maintain that caliber
of play is awesome.”
elite athlete. A raw powerful slugger. A successful career. A
perspective that may prove a bit beneficial as the game longs for