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January 16, 2012 at 3:00 PM

On cusp of majors, Wilson ready for highs and Lowe's

Alex Wilson (Dave Letizi)
BOSTON, MASS. -- It would be hard to blame Alex Wilson for getting ahead of himself this offseason. Many a minor leaguer has fallen into that trap before him, and many will after. On the precipice of a major league debut – which, for Wilson, will almost certainly come this season if he remains healthy – players can sometimes spend more time worrying about external circumstances, such as how the major league team is doing and when that first opportunity might come, than about their own performance. Wilson, however, maintains that while he is focused on making the major league roster, he is not distracted by the comings and goings this offseason on the Boston roster.

“I try to stay away from that. I hear it enough from family members and everything else,” he said at the New Stars for Young Stars fundraiser on Saturday. “I try to stay out of it as much as I can and do what I’ve been doing. I know what’s going to work and what’s going to get me there. I’ve been working hard all year and we’ll see where it takes me in spring training.”

Wilson has been working hard this offseason as well, but not just on the mound. Facing the realities of a minor league salary, he worked mornings at Lowe’s Home Improvement for the first half of the offseason, when many pitchers power down a bit to let their arms recover from the rigors of the season, before stopping around Christmas to focus completely on the coming season. He will begin throwing off a mound this week, looking to replicate a bounce-back 2011 season that saw him named the system’s Pitcher of the Year by both the Red Sox and SoxProspects.com.

In 2010, his first full season, Wilson needed just 11 starts in High-A Salem, during which he allowed 24 runs on 43 hits and 15 walks while striking out 50 over 55.2 innings, to earn a promotion to Portland. However, Double-A brought Wilson’s first struggles as a professional, as he allowed 59 runs in 78.1 innings for a 6.66 ERA. He allowed 95 hits, seeing his strikeout rate drop from 8.08 per 9 innings in Salem to 6.43 in Portland.

In 2011, Wilson rebounded nicely, providing the prototypical example of why the Sox aggressively promote their prospects, in part to induce such struggles. Returning to Portland, he dropped his ERA back to 3.05 in 21 starts. He allowed 103 hits and 37 walks while posting 99 strikeouts in 112.0 innings. He also applied the lessons he learned in 2010 to his late-season promotion to Pawtucket, where he was even better, striking out 24 batters in 21.0 innings, allowing just 19 hits and 7 walks.

“At some point, you’re going to struggle, it’s just a matter of when. My first go-around in Double-A was not a fun one, but I went home, regrouped, and put myself in better shape and came in prepared, and knew what to expect going in,” he said. “I think that was a huge part of it. I just went ahead and tried to take the bull by the horns and control my own destiny and not worry about the outside influences and stuff like that of saying ‘oh man, you just got promoted, what are they expecting?’ I had the mindset of do your thing, go out and work hard, and everything else will take care of itself.”

Wilson expects that he will be used as a reliever at the start of camp before being stretched out to start, similar to how the team worked him last spring. Many scouting projections have Wilson working out of the bullpen at the major league level, allowing his fastball-slider combination – Baseball America rated both as the best in the system this offseason – to play up. Although Wilson prefers starting, the former Texas A&M closer thinks the transition to the bullpen would not be too difficult.

“Being in a constant routine as a starter’s always really nice, but once you get used to being a reliever, you get into your routine there as well. For me, it would be finding another routine. It’s been a long time since I have relieved, but I think the transition would be easy,” he said.

Whether Wilson will remain a starter will depend in large part on the development of his changeup to accompany the fastball and slider, something the Red Sox will likely allow him to do with a return trip to Pawtucket to start the year. However, if he picks up 2012 where he left off last season, expect to see him on the major league roster before the year is out.

Chris Hatfield is the Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com. 
Follow him on Twitter @SPChrisHatfield.