For the first month of the 2016 season. Cubs prospect DJ Wilson did not have a June to remember. In fact, half of July was the same way. On July 20, he was hitting .155. The only good thing about his season at the plate was that he could still draw a walk. His OBP was 120 points above his average. Come June 21, Wilson, who had been the leadoff hitter for the Eugene Emeralds, was moved to the number nine spot in the order. Since then, his world turned upside down literally and figuratively.
In 2015, the Cubs selected Wilson with their fourth pick in the fourth round. Wilson, who had previously committed to Vanderbilt, signed with the Cubs for $1.3 million right out of high school. The young outfielder was ranked as the top position player in the state of Ohio. Scouts loved his speed and hit tool, but did not foresee much power in his left-handed bat. That has changed quickly in the last year.
Wilson made his debut in the Arizona Rookie League last summer in two stints. Stint number one only lasted 4 games in July. He went away for three weeks, came back, and then proceeded to hit .266 over the next 18 games. It was nothing fancy. He drew 6 walks in 79 at bats and struck out 15 times. However, it was in fall instructs that Wilson made his biggest leap in development in 2015 when he finished second in the HR Derby finale (Eloy was forbidden to take part) to Kwang-Min Kwon. The flash for power was exciting as it was something that was not really seen or written about in many profiles or reports.
The hopes for Wilson entering his first full season of pro ball were good. MLB.com ranked him in the low teens on their prospect list to begin the season. They said:
Wilson’s best tool is his well above-average speed, which helps him reach base, wreak havoc once he does and play a quality center field. He focuses on putting the ball in play with his compact left-handed swing and has enough sneaky power to produce double-digit home run totals […] Wilson has excellent instincts in center field, with his quickness, reads and routes combining to give him plenty of range. He has an average, accurate arm as well.
Wilson’s poor first month hitting in the Northwest League for Eugene did not hurt the team. He did contribute to helping the team win in other ways. His defense in center field was spectacular at times and his speed on the basepaths helped to negate some of the stink coming off his bat.
Things change, though. When Wilson was moved to the nine hole in the lineup, things began to click for him. Hits began to come in bunches, some of them home runs. When I watched during this stretch, the ball started to jump off his bat. Strangely, his surge came on the road in the second half. Away from home, Wilson is hitting .343 versus hitting .190 at home.
After the All-Star Break, Wilson shot out of the chute going 8 for 14 with 2 HRs and 6 RBIs. Wilson was figuring things out. The last couple weeks have seen him cool off a bit, but not too much. He has even appeared back at the top of the lineup occasionally.
For July, even though it took three weeks to warm up, he hit .279 with a .350 OBP while blasting 2 HRs and driving in 15. Strangely, he only stole 2 bases. ,
In August, he is transforming into a doubles machine. Currently, he is slugging .471 for the month on the basis of 8 doubles and 1 HR. He has hit for a solid .309 average for the month and shown great discipline at the plate with only 13 Ks. Though his K rate is sinking, he could still draw more walks as he only has two for the month. On the other hand, he has swiped nine bases for the month.
What I have enjoyed about watching him late at night this summer is that he is a truly great all-around player. He never gets cheated at the plate and he is very exciting to watch in the field as he has great instincts, takes great routes, and flies to the ball. Honestly, there are times I prefer to watch him play defense. Then again, once he hits first base and motors to second, that, too, is a thing of beauty. He is one of the most thrilling two-way players the Cubs have in the system.
Wilson seems to be peaking at the right time. With just one week remaining in the regular season, Wilson can hopefully carry his success over to the postseason. The Emeralds have the best record in the Northwest League including winning 15 games in a row. Wilson’s play is a big part of that success.
In 2017, he should begin at South Bend at the age of 19, a full two years younger than the league average. The key for him, just like this year, will be to make adjustments and to trust his approach and discipline at the plate. He will get his walks, hopefully, and will be a joy to watch fly around center field.
But for now, Wilson and the Emeralds still have some unfinished business in the playoffs.