From being scouted to having your name called on draft day, to negotiating and inking a contract, entering the ranks of professional baseball is a step-by-step, but not always simple, process. Boston’s second-round pick this year, Alex Wilson, understands that as well as anyone. A 22-year-old right-hander, Wilson signed with the Red Sox one year after transferring from Winthrop University to Texas A&M rather than accepting an offer from the Cubs, who had drafted him in the 10th round in 2008. A native of Hurricane, West Virginia, Wilson has seen his career get off to a fast start, logging a 0.50 ERA, while allowing only 10 hits in his first 36 professional innings with the Short-season Lowell Spinners.
David Laurila: How is pro ball so far? Have there been any surprises?
Alex Wilson: No, not really. Being an older guy coming in, I was expecting to be put on a strict schedule, and that’s what has happened. It’s been a great thing for me, knowing what my routine is going to be, day in and day out, and it’s starting to really pay off, I believe. And I did know a lot of what to expect. A lot of my friends and past teammates have gone on to play pro ball, so I had a good idea of how it was going to be-the daily grind, and all that stuff you hear about. Still, until you actually do it, I don’t think that you understand just what you have to do, day in and day out, to keep your body feeling good, and to stay on top of everything and really understand the system that you’re in.
DL: You missed the 2008 season after having Tommy John surgery. Where were you developmentally at the time you got hurt?
AW: Oh gosh. Developmentally, I was a young kid that was really throwing hard at the time. I was playing in a smaller conference, at a small D-1 school, where I could get away with a lot more than I could at Texas A&M. So I learned quickly after surgery that it’s not just a walk in the park, and that you need to learn how to pitch, rather than just throw all the time.
DL: What was the primary factor in your decision to go to Texas A&M rather than sign with the Cubs?
AW: I knew that if I didn’t get exactly what I was looking for, I was going to go back to school, and I was completely comfortable with that. I’m working toward getting my degree, and that was an important factor. My parents had always preached strongly to me, and once it didn’t really work out the way I would have liked it to [with the Cubs], it was an easy decision to go back. Coming off surgery, I was a little shaky, probably more mentally than physically, about my game, and unless I got that seven-figure offer that I was looking for, I was prepared to go back to school.
DL: In an earlier interview, you said that you rebuilt yourself after the surgery. What did you mean by that?
AW: Physically, I was much stronger by the time I got done, top to bottom. Not so much my arm. My arm had always been really strong-the best part about me-but my core, my shoulders, and my legs, everything about me just got better after the surgery, because that’s all I could focus on.
DL: Was the June 2009 draft a major focus during your season at Texas A&M?.
AW: No. After going through the draft for the one year…I worried about it the whole time. So I made it a point, the second time through, to just focus on the games at hand, and to not worry about outside factors, because they’d take care of themselves. I just wanted to go out and play.
DL: Is there such a thing as pitching to prepare yourself for pro ball, as opposed to simply just going out there and pitching your game?
AW: Definitely. Once you have that in the back of your head, and you’re constantly thinking about it, it’s a distraction. You have to just really focus in, and just worry about, “Hey, this is what I need to do right now.” It doesn’t matter what the scout from wherever, who is sitting in the stands, is looking at. You just need to do whatever you do to win, right now. I figured out that the less I worried about what was going on in the stands, the better I was performing on the field.
DL: You went to a pre-draft workout at Fenway Park prior to being drafted by the Cubs. Did other teams work you out as well?
AW: No, that was the only one I went to. Honestly, it was just because I was on my way to [Cape Cod] and it just happened to work out. I turned down going to Houston and Baltimore, just because they were so far out of the way that they wouldn’t have been worth it for me. Both were really late phone calls, out of the blue, whereas I had been in contact with the Red Sox throughout the entire year. Plus, for me to go to [Houston and Baltimore], all the expenses would have been on me and my family. Financially, that would have just been too much to handle.
DL: Going into the 2008 draft, were your expectations that either the Cubs or Red Sox would take you?
AW: Yes, they were two of the top three teams; the third one being the Arizona Diamondbacks, who I also had a really good feeling about. It ended up coming down to the tenth round, when the Cubs picked me.
DL: What about the 2009 draft? Did those three teams again look like the most likely destinations?
AW: I actually didn’t sign my re-draft waiver for the Chicago Cubs, so they didn’t factor into it at all. I had a feeling that it would be between a couple of teams: Cincinnati, Milwaukee, and Boston. Those were the three that I kind of had good feelings with. I had talked to their scouts regularly, and I was just sitting back, waiting and hoping.
DL: Why didn’t you sign the re-draft waiver for the Cubs?
AW: I just wanted a couple of questions answered on why the things had happened the year before, and they weren’t able to answer them for me. I just didn’t want to put myself through that same situation two years in a row; I didn’t feel like they communicated with me very well at all.
DL: What about your communication with the Red Sox? Was their interest leading into the 2009 draft much the same as it had been in 2008?
AW: It was about the same. We stayed in good contact throughout the year, so I knew that they were interested. They had been at a lot of my games; I know that for a fact. It was just one of those things where they went about their business very professionally. They didn’t really beat around the bush; they didn’t join the hordes of scouts who come in and just drill you with questions. They sat me down one-on-one; they called me on my cell phone. They just really wanted to know what I was thinking, not what everybody else was trying to pull out of me.
DL: Did the approaches of scouts from various organizations differ very much?
AW: Yes, there was a huge difference. There was a dramatic difference in the way that the scouts would go about their business. You have some guys who just want to hammer you, hammer you, hammer you, and try to get information out of you. I went through that a couple of times, and I wasn’t going to give in to that. When they called me one-on-one, I was much more willing to talk to them and let them understand my situation, and how I was thinking. I just felt that it was more professional that way. Yeah, this is a game, but once you get into the system, you realize how much of a business it really is.
DL: Most draft-eligible players say they don’t care who takes them, that they just want an opportunity to play pro ball. Is that really true?
AW: For some guys, I think that it is accurate. But once you get into the higher-profile guys, they know that they’re going to get drafted at some point, and it’s a matter of trying to work your way into the best situation possible. I mean, you obviously don’t have complete control over that, but there are little things that you can do to help yourself.
DL: The two teams that drafted you, the Cubs and Red Sox, are storied franchises. Do history and mystique factor into the equation at all, or is mostly about money?
AW: I don’t know. I guess that it could, to an extent. Growing up, I was a huge Red Sox fan, back in the days of the Nomars and everybody else. Watching how much the city loved the team, even though they kept falling short, I always kind of admired how everything was carried out. So I’ve always wanted to play for the Red Sox, at Fenway Park. I’ve been to games, and the atmosphere there is unbelievable. It’s something I hope to experience, as a player, soon.
DL: Your father played briefly for the Cincinnati Bengals. Did the possibility of playing in the same city mean anything to you when the Reds were showing an interest prior to the draft?
AW: You know, it really didn’t, but my old high school baseball coach is actually a bird-dog scout for the Cincinnati Reds, and he did a little communicating for me; he put my name out there, and people started following me a little bit. It just kind of worked out that way. Half of my dad’s side of family is still right around Cincinnati, so it would have almost been like playing in my hometown, but the cards just didn’t fall right.
DL: What happened after your name was called on draft day?
AW: Once I was drafted, I got a phone call saying, “Hey, we’ll be in contact within the next few days to try to work out a deal and get you going as fast as possible.” That was from the area scout. Going into the draft, I had told them that if I go in the second round, or the third round, that I think we would be able to work something out fairly quickly. I wanted to get out there playing; I didn’t want to miss this year due to negotiations, and all that stuff, like I had done the prior year. So he called back and said, “This is slot money here. Would you accept that?” I said, “Yeah. It sounds great. I’d rather get out and start playing, and really make my money once I get to the big leagues.” If it gets drawn out, it weighs heavily, not just on the player, but also the organization. It’s not really a great experience. At least the one I had [with the Cubs] wasn’t something I wanted to re-live.
DL: Was there an agent involved at that point?
AW: I have an agent, and he worked out the minor details, like how my bonus would be split up, and I like how I have an incentive plan in my contract. Just little things like that, where I really have no formal knowledge. So he’s helping me to start my career as well as I can, and it really helped me, because all I had to worry about was performing on the field. He worked out all of the minor details and talked to the financial people and all that stuff, whereas all I had to do was agree to terms, basically, and then sign my contract.
DL: Did you solicit advice from any of the people you know in the game, or were you pretty much entirely deferential to your agent’s advice?
AW: I had an idea of what might go on, but I think that each player is different. For me, it was one of those things where I’d had surgery before, so I had to clear my medicals. That was a big part of it. It was getting through that process, and once that happened, it was being able to play and… let’s say I get hurt now. I won’t lose that signing bonus because I get hurt, because I was medically cleared. There are little ins and outs where you have to be careful with wording, and that kind of thing. I didn’t want to deal with it, nor did I know how to deal with it, so my agent took care of it.
DL: Was the contract brought to you, or did you travel to Boston to sign it?
AW: It was actually brought here, to Lowell, for me to sign. It was faxed over; I signed it, and mailed it off. Before I could sign it, I had to pass all of my drug tests, and my physical, and once those came back clear, I was able to sign and become eligible to play here. The drug test takes about a week to 10 days to come back, and it includes both street drugs and steroids.
DL: Drug testing is now a routine procedure throughout the minor leagues. Not just when you sign your contract, but during the season.
AW: Yes. We actually had a drug test here, yesterday, so you always have to stay true. You can’t waver off of those lines at all, because you will be caught. They just tell us to be careful; be smart and don’t do anything dumb, or you’ll end up losing everything you just gained. But it’s kind of an unwritten rule, especially for college kids who have come from that atmosphere, that, “Hey, you can get caught.” We get drug tested all the time, to where you don’t even contemplate doing anything like that.
DL: Going back to the scouting process, most teams have prospective draftees complete psychological tests. Were the ones you took pretty standard, or did they vary?
AW: I took 10, 12, maybe 15 different psychological exams, none of which made much sense to me, but I guess they do the trick for what they’re looking for. Most of them were the same, but they varied a little bit in the questions they asked. You can get anything from, “Would you rather be a scientist or a salesperson?” I mean, what does that have to do with baseball? I have no idea, but I guess that it helps them understand who you are, and that’s the most important thing.
DL: Any final thoughts?
AW: Not really. From getting scouted, all the way to signing, I think we pretty much hit it right on the head.