Pirates prospect Justin Wilson searching for role
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Left-hander Justin Wilson has an outside chance this spring to win a job in the Pirates' bullpen. If he doesn't, Wilson still might figure in the team's long-term plans as a starting pitcher.
Which way it goes -- starter or reliever -- is at least partly up to Wilson.
"In a perfect world, we'd like to see him start," assistant general manager Kyle Stark said. "But he's got to command his fastball better. If he does that, we're excited about the starter option. If not, we're excited about the potential back-end bullpen option. We'll see how it plays out."
A fifth-round draft pick in 2008, the 24-year-old Wilson has been a fast-riser in the farm system. He started 73 of his first 74 outings, throwing a curveball, slider, changeup and a fastball that touched 94 mph.
As part of the rotation last season at Triple-A Indianapolis, Wilson's strikeout-to-walk ratio dipped, and the number of hits and walks he allowed per inning rose. When he was switched to a reliever for nine outings, Wilson's velocity spiked at 99 mph and his command improved.
Pitching coordinator Jim Benedict was not surprised to see Wilson bump up his fastball out of the bullpen.
"A big difference between relieving and starting is knowing you're going to face the hitter just once," Benedict said. "It gives you a sense of, 'This is it' versus 'I've got to read a hitter, study and be intellectual.' You end up being more Neanderthal."
Throwing a 99-mph heater is so simple, even a caveman can do it?
"Jim has a great point there," Wilson said. "You can go in, blow it out and just attack the zone. Coming out of the pen, there's a little more adrenaline. I learned a new mentality and gained some (velocity) with it."
Pumped-up velocity is nice, but there's still that pesky matter of control. Wilson's walk rate has inched up in each of the past three seasons. Last year, he averaged 4.8 walks per nine innings.
The Pirates are not particularly deep with left-handed relievers, so Wilson is getting a look this spring. He's at the back end of a mix that includes Tony Watson, Daniel Moskos and Jo-Jo Reyes.
|By the numbers|
|Justin Wilson's minor league stats:|
In his debut against the Baltimore Orioles, Wilson issued a four-pitch walk to the first batter he faced. He rebounded by striking out two pretty good hitters, Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds.
"He got sharper the longer he stayed out there," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The first batter, I'm sure he had some nerves. It was four quick balls and then, boom, he went to work. That's a fresh arm, sitting at 95 mph (fastball) and with a lot of (other) pitches."
If Wilson begins the season back at Indianapolis, there might not be room for him in the starting rotation. That group could consist of some combination of Kyle McPherson, Rudy Owens, Brad Lincoln, Bryan Morris, Daniel Cabrera and Shairon Martis.
"It's that age-old question: which is the best way to develop a guy?" general manager Neal Huntington said. "His success is going to be predicated by his command. How do we best develop that command• Does he get that pitching out of the bullpen or is it better to start him, with the multiple innings and the side sessions?"
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