May 8, 2001
Tom Wilson has been one of the best-hitting catchers in minor-league baseball for a number of years, offering the tasty combination of patience and power. However, all that has gotten him is two days of major-league service time, during which he didn't have an at-bat.
Now 30 years old, Wilson is with his fifth organization, having signed with the Athletics as a minor-league free agent following the 2000 season. He took time to speak with us recently before a game in Tacoma.
Baseball Prospectus: After last year, which marked your third stint in the Yankees organization, you signed with the A's during the off-season. What prompted you to sign with the Athletics?
Tom Wilson: Opportunity--a chance to get to the big leagues. I feel like I keep doing the same thing each year and I'm not getting a shot. With the Yankees, they want a big name and a veteran guy. That's the way it is there; they'll pay someone two million dollars to be the backup catcher.
I got a call the first day that organizations could call, and it was Billy Beane. I know who he is and was kind of surprised that he called me himself. The A's have been really up front with me. They said I was going to play a lot in spring training and compete for a job. I played a lot in spring training and had a good spring.
BP: Unfortunately, so did Sal Fasano.
TW: He did a good job. He's a great big-league backup; he catches, he throws, guys love throwing to him. I knew going in that something had to happen, that if somebody got hurt or something that I might have made the team. The opportunity is still there. The A's flat said, "We like what you did. You made a good impression and we like the way you went about your business." So, hopefully, if something happens, I'll be the guy that goes up.
BP: Your approach to hitting seems to fit with their philosophy. You wait for a pitch you can hit and you drive it when you see it.
TW: Yeah, they were adamant about the fact that they wanted me for my bat. You don't find a lot of good catchers these days who can really hit.
BP: If there's one thing that's been keeping you from reaching the big leagues, it's your defensive reputation. Is that a fair rap?
TW: In talking to pitchers, guys like throwing to me and I call a good game. I catch the ball well, but I need to improve on my throwing. I have the arm strength; it's just little things like footwork that I need to tinker with. It's great having [RiverCats manager] Bob Geren here, because we work on a lot of stuff to get better at throwing. It's not a secret: I need to get better at throwing. I do everything else pretty well.
BP: As a group, catchers who are drafted high do not develop as well as players at other positions. Do you have any thoughts as to why that is?
TW: When I got to professional baseball, I struggled because catching takes so much out of you. I never struggled at hitting the way I did in my first few years, and I think it was a direct result of paying so much attention to catching. It takes so much out of you mentally, that it just drains you.
It's even worse if you're converting from another position. Catching is a big responsibility, it's your number-one thing. Major-league coaches tell you that the first thing for a catcher is playing defense; any offense is a bonus. That's clear. There are a lot of guys in the big leagues who can catch, throw, and call a game, but they can't hit at all. And they're making millions of dollars. It pisses me off. I've seen guys who have gotten there, and it's like "Why? How?"
BP: Is defense overrated for catchers?
TW: Yes, I think to an extent it's a little overrated. Not in the National League, which is a totally different style of baseball. But in the American League, when you're playing certain teams you can sacrifice a little on defense if they don't have much speed.
BP: Since teams in the minors don't have as many coaches, it seems like a catcher with your experience would be very desirable to an organization. What's your involvement from the player-development standpoint?
TW: I've had some involvement in the past. Last year, the Yankees had a kid, Victor Valencia, that they wanted to play at Triple-A. He has the tools, but not the whole makeup to run a pitching staff. They were hoping that he'd develop, but they wanted me there because they had a young pitching staff.
I had a lot of knowledge to share with the young pitchers--Randy Keisler, Ted Lilly, Brandon Knight--and they came a long way. I like to think that I helped some of those guys out somewhere along the line.
BP: Do you actually sit in on any of the player-development meetings?
TW: No, but I talk a lot with the pitching coaches. They know the mechanics, but as the catcher, I can see what the ball is doing.
BP: A lot of players with your experience who haven't reached the big leagues start looking at the possibility of playing in Japan. Is that something you've considered, or with communication being so important at your position, is that not an option?
TW: I've been catching since I've been in professional baseball, but I have no problem playing in the outfield. I would fit in great over there. If you're an American and go over there, you've got to drive the ball, hit home runs and pile up RBI. I'd love to go over there. I mean, I want to get to the big leagues just like everybody else does, and I've put a lot of my life into it. But playing in the minor leagues, I don't have a lot to show for it. So, if I could go over there, I'd go in a heartbeat.
BP: When I covered the Devil Rays a couple years back, I met your mom in one of the newsgroups. Is she still watching out for you?
TW: (laughing) Yup, for me and all my friends. So don't say anything bad on the computer about me or you'll hear about it.
Jeff Bower is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.