With the MLB amateur draft just a couple months away, we continue looking at some potential targets for the Kansas City Royals. The Royals will have the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. Today we’ll look at a college shortstop with standout contact skills: Grand Canyon’s Jacob Wilson.
Wilson, the son of 12-year big leaguer Jack Wilson, played prep ball at Thousand Oaks High School in California. He was known as a solid contact hitter and middle-infield defender, but he wasn’t heavily recruited by power-conference programs. He ended up choosing Grand Canyon University, a private university in Phoenix that had become Division I just six years prior under head coach Andy Stankiewicz.
After an impressive fall, Wilson was seen as perhaps the best freshman in the Western Athletic Conference, though he was slated to play third base in 2021 with Channy Ortiz holding down shortstop. Wilson got off to a slow start and missed some time to injury in March, but he began finding his footing once conference play began. The highlight was an 8-18 weekend at Sacramento State in early May. The Lopes managed to right the ship after an early-season six-game losing streak and swept their way through the WAC Tournament, earning the first NCAA Tournament bid in program history.
Playing in the Tucson Regional as a #4 seed, GCU went 0-2 with an opening loss to the hosts followed by a defeat to Oklahoma State. Wilson did his part in those games, going 5-9 with a double and a homer. He finished his freshman season hitting .313./.376/.440 with 11 doubles, four homers, and a K rate of just 9.3% in 205 plate appearances. He was named a Freshman All-American for his efforts, as well as receiving All-WAC First-Team honors. That summer, Wilson played for Mankato in the Northwoods League and hit well with a .302/.365/.417 line in 107 plate appearances while striking out just three times.
Wilson and the Lopes stumbled out of the gate once again in 2022 but got right after a bumpy first couple weeks. Wilson earned national player of the week honors from numerous publications when he went 18-23 over a five-game stretch in mid-March. This week was part of a 13-game hit streak that he put together, which included nine multi-hit games. He one-upped himself later in the spring with a 14-game hit streak that stretched into May. GCU finished the regular season on top of the WAC but ended up losing to Abilene Christian in the conference tournament. Fortunately, the Lopes did enough to earn an at-large bid and qualify for the NCAA Tournament as a #3 seed.
Once again, Wilson hit well in Regionals, but the Lopes went 0-2. In WAC and NCAA Tournament play, he went 10-23 with two doubles, a homer, and four walks. He improved on his freshman performance with a season line of .358/.418/.585 with 18 doubles, 12 homers, and a microscopic 2.5% K rate in 275 plate appearances. He was named First-Team All-WAC as well as All-Defense and was one of 31 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes award. He once again played summer ball after the college season, this time in the Cape Cod League. Wilson hit quite well in what is generally considered a tough place to hit, slashing .278/.381/.389 in ten games. He also played with the US Collegiate National Team that summer and impressed at the dish.
One of my favorite players I've seen this summer: @GCU_Baseball SS Jacob Wilson.— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) July 28, 2022
Projected first-round MLB draft pick on the new Baseball America 2023 draft board: https://t.co/MAy20ryaXr pic.twitter.com/fo8ltAP4k4
All 2023 stats as of May 22
In 2023, Wilson opened the season strong for once with consecutive two-hit games, including a 2-4 with a triple as the Lopes upset Tennessee in their second game. In a game against Texas State on March 3, he struck out twice. He punched out again the very next day. Since then, he has only gone down on strikes once. Immediately following the series against Texas State, he went on a tear, going 18-27 with three doubles, two triples, and a homer over a six-game stretch. Two weekends later, he had consecutive four-hit games against Sam Houston State.
In a game against Utah Valley on April 1, Wilson was plunked in the hand and exited the game. Though he escaped serious injury, he still missed the next seven games (save a pinch-hitting appearance in the last one). That stretch showed how much Wilson means to this team as the Lopes went just 1-6 without Wilson starting, including a home series loss to a Seattle team that is currently well below .500. He returned to the starting lineup on April 15 with a three-hit game. He kept right on hitting until May 6 when he left the game after a slide. He managed to return pretty quickly, going 4-9 two weekends ago at UTRGV.
With just the WAC Tournament remaining on GCU’s schedule, Wilson is hitting .425/.473/.665 in 203 plate appearances with 17 doubles, four triples, and six homers. Just as in 2022, Wilson was First-Team All-WAC. He has remained around the same range on prospect rankings this spring:
MLB Pipeline: 7
Keith Law ($): 17
Kiley McDaniel ($): 10
Baseball America ($): 7
Out of all the prospects that I’ll write up this spring, Wilson is likely the only one that I’ve gotten to see in person. I was in attendance for Grand Canyon’s non-conference matchup with New Mexico on March 14. One of the many great things about college baseball is how cheap good tickets are, just look at what $10 gets you:
In the first inning, he battled for ten pitches before lining a double to the left-center gap. He got results much quicker in the rest of his at-bats: a bouncer up the middle on 2-0, a deep flyout on 1-1, a double down the line in left on 1-0, and a flyout that scored a run on 1-2. Even on the outs he made hard contact. Defensively he was a bit shaky, misplaying a groundball to allow a single and throwing the ball into the outfield on a double play attempt later.
The first thing that stands out with Wilson is how much he moves at the plate. He’s exceptionally twitchy up there. All the movement seems to work though as he has the most important tool in baseball: the hit tool. No player in college baseball makes as much contact as he does. His 2.5% strikeout rate in 2022 was the lowest in the nation among qualified hitters and his 2.5% mark in 2023 will likely lead the nation again. Good luck getting him to whiff on a fastball. His pedestrian walk rate doesn’t do justice to his approach. Wilson has a good eye at the plate and rarely chases, but he makes so much contact in the zone that he doesn’t tend to run deep counts. When you can hit .425, I understand not waiting around for ball four.
Gets robbed of a base hit here, but Jacob Wilson (‘23 elig.) did his thing tonight; absolute barrel magnet w/ fast bat. Elite pitch recognition skills and approach on full display. Great actions on dirt and will stick at SS.— Peter Flaherty III (@PeterGFlaherty) March 23, 2023
Top-15 overall pick in July pic.twitter.com/PV2PwIJtQo
It’s not just empty batting average either. After recording just 15 extra base hits as a freshman, Wilson knocked 31 last year and 27 in 2023 in 72 fewer plate appearances. His ISO of .240 this season is a hair better than Jacob Gonzalez’s. He also showed surprising power with wood bats during his time with the CNT. His power is almost exclusively to the pull-side though and he doesn’t have much raw pop, so he’s likely more of a doubles hitter than home run hitter as a pro. Despite the lack of raw power, his bat control and feel for hitting allow Wilson to regularly make quality contact.
Likely an average runner at best, Wilson has been more active on the basepaths in 2023, going 8-9 on stolen bases after attempting just two steals over his first two seasons. He’s not a standout defensive shortstop, but he has a strong arm and good hands and actions on the infield, so he can likely stick at short at the next level. He checks the intangible boxes as well, being lauded for his baseball IQ and makeup.
The nit to pick with Wilson is obvious: the lack of power. Six homers in an offensive environment like the WAC is not very impressive. I could understand looking at this profile and seeing Nick Madrigal. Wilson has shown more pop in college than Madrigal ever did, albeit in an easier conference. Any team that drafts Wilson will bank on his outlier contact skills translating to the next level and hope for at least fringe-average power. With the hit tool, instincts, and ability to play up the middle, Wilson seems like a safe bet to be at least a future utility player. He could be even more should he prove that he can impact the ball regularly.
What do you think of Jacob Wilson at #8?
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