Don’t look now but young Blue Jays center field prospect Kenny Wilson is batting over .300 this spring. Sure it’s only been a dozen at bats, but it’s a good sign for a once promising prospect to stand out in any way during big league camp. The former 2nd round draft pick out of Sickles High School in Tampa Bay in 2008 has been slow to develop, but Wilson profiles as a high-speed, top-notch defender in the outfield and his outstanding tools have kept him hanging around in the organization long enough to become a noticeable asset for the Blue Jays. As he possess a similar skillset to former Blue Jays outfielder Rajai Davis, it may be helpful to compare the two in order to see just how valuable an asset Wilson really is…
Kenny Wilson was twice rated the organization’s fastest baserunner by Baseball America, and he is a former switch-hitter, who is now hitting exclusively from the left side of the batter’s box (or right-handed).
In 2012, as a 22-year-old, he finally put together those impressive tools that earned him $644,000 as an 18-year-old. He batted .260 with a respectable .362 OBP, but what really stands out are the 55 bases he stole over 123 games. He followed that up with a shortened 2013 campaign in which he hit .270, with a .349 OBP and 17 stolen bases over 60 games, but he added 12 more stolen bases to that total over only 23 games in the Arizona Fall League.
Unlike Wilson, Rajai Davis was not drafted out of high school and, when he was eventually drafted as a 20-year-old in the 38th round, he was not a high draft pick. However at 24, Davis was in a similar position to the one Wilson is in now: a speedy outfield prospect with little experience above the Class A Advanced level.
Comparatively over their minor league careers, Davis and Wilson have shown an equal proficiency in their base stealing abilities. Davis has posted a 78% success rate on the basepaths, but it is Wilson who has the slightly better numbers with an 80% success rate. Another area where Wilson has the slight edge is in the fielding department. Although we have seen Davis make some highlight reel catches over his career he didn’t receive the same sort of hype for his defense as Wilson has in his young career. He is a plus defender who takes good routes on balls, shows outstanding range and has a strong arm. A skillset which earned him Baseball America’s award for the Blue Jays best defensive outfielder after the 2009 season
The harsh reality for Wilson is that, if his tools matched the results he would have been in the majors a long time ago. Part of that is because of his past injury history. Wilson played most, if not all, of his professional career with a damaged left shoulder labrum, that was only surgically repaired partway through the 2011 season. Even before it was repaired it took over 50 games away from him between the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Don’t tell the guy who just hit a walk-off triple for the Jays this past weekend, but another knock against Wilson as a prospect is his lack of any sort of power numbers. In 2013, Wilson posted his highest minor league ISO over a full-season at .116 and has been consistently below average his entire career.
Davis, in comparison, actually never posted an ISO as high as .116 in each minor league season before he made the major leagues. However, he has shown an ability to slug in that aforementioned range during his major league career by legging out extra bases when necessary.
While there is no doubt that Kenny Wilson has been slow to develop, that doesn’t necessarily indicate that he should be written off as a bust quite yet. Wilson, like Rajai, is sneaky speedy, and that skill alone may be enough to earn him a spot as a late-game defensive replacement or pinch runner. That was a great role for Rajai Davis in Toronto, but if Wilson ever wants to grow into a future up-the-middle regular in center field he’ll have to be better than that. Obviously, keeping consistently healthy will always be crucial for Wilson but if he continues to improve his approach as a right-handed hitter he may just tap into his power potential enough to stand out with the bat. There is every indication that Wilson could be a late bloomer like Davis, but he will need to show clear progression this year in order to remain relevant on the organization’s radar.