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VOL. 133 | NO. 137 | Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Former Redbird Jacob Wilson Makes Appearance in Triple-A All-Star Game

Pete Wickham

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Jacob Wilson could be forgiven for doing something a bit out of the ordinary this past weekend. Like stepping to the plate encased in bubble wrap, or every piece of body armor in his dugout, or maybe a suit of medieval armor.

The former Bartlett High and University of Memphis star has a big date on his calendar for Wednesday night, when he represents the Syracuse Chiefs in the Triple-A All-Star game in Columbus, Ohio. It’s the second time in his professional career he’s gotten an All-Star nod.

He’d just like the chance to enjoy the experience once.

Former Bartlett High and University of Memphis star and Redbirds player Jacob Wilson will represent the Syracuse Chiefs in the Triple-A All-Star game in Columbus, Ohio. It’s the second time in his professional career he’s gotten an All-Star nod. (Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

“Last time was with Quad Cities in the Midwest League (2013),” Wilson said. “Got beaned with a pitch the weekend before, got a concussion and missed the whole thing.”

It was the first of what have been several trips to the valley for Wilson as a pro. After splitting time between the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds and Double-A Springfield for two seasons – and struggling at the plate the whole time, he spent 2017 mired in Double-A, hitting .248 with 17 homers and 66 RBI. Springfield missed the playoffs, and Wilson was home cutting his parents’ grass when a pleasant surprise arrived by phone: an injury had opened up a spot on the Redbirds’ postseason roster.

“I’m thinking everything was over,” Wilson said. “Then I get a phone call and they asked if I wanted to keep playing.”

Play he did, hitting 5-for-12 with five runs and three RBI to help the Redbirds to the PCL title. “I get a call and get to win a ring. That was a lot of fun,” he said.

Then came another downer. Wilson was picked up by the Washington Nationals in the Triple-A portion of the Rule 5 draft, and after spring training he found himself back in Double-A at Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) in the Eastern League.

“You kind of say ‘Dang!’ No one wants to go back to Double-A for a fifth season,” Wilson said. “But then I sat back and told myself that this is an opportunity to create an opportunity for myself.”

After 15 games he was moved up to the Chiefs’ roster, which made for a series of interesting phone calls with his family. “They were driving up to see me play in Harrisburg and I had to get ‘em on the phone and say, ‘You need to keep driving a little further.’ “

But it was a conversation he had with Nationals’ minor league hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich shortly after arriving in upstate New York that may have the most lasting value.

During a video session, he suggested that Wilson alter his follow-through, keeping both hands on the bat. Like many hitters, Wilson would unleash as hard as he could, finishing with just one hand on the bat. That’s good for home runs (he has 85 in his minor league career), but not so good for control.

“He said it would allow me to stay through the ball a bit more and use the middle of the field,” Wilson said. “Took me two or three days to get comfortable but I started to hit balls a lot harder and wasn’t fouling pitches off like I did in the past. I was starting to do damage.”

He’s hit only three dingers in 65 games with a struggling Syracuse team (36-51), but has 20 doubles and is hitting .288, 36 points better than his career mark of .252. He’s driven in 34 runs, scored 29 and has 25 walks compared to only 39 strikeouts in 226 at-bats as the Chiefs’ third baseman.

Wilson, who turns 28 later this month, said it’s a bit of a culture shock going from the Mid-South to upstate New York, “but the ballpark’s nice, the town’s nice and there are a lot of veteran guys on this team that are good to be around.”

He will be surrounded by familiar faces at Wednesday’s game, which will be televised by the MLB Network starting at 6 p.m. (CDT).

The Redbirds will have three representatives on the Pacific Coast League All-Star squad. Dakota Hudson (12-2, 2.33 ERA) will be the PCL starting pitcher, joined by Daniel Poncedeleon (8-3, 2.39) and third baseman Patrick Wisdom (.297, 12 HR, 50 RBI, .372 OBP). Wisdom also will participate in the Home Run Derby.

“It will be nice to see those guys again and catch up,” he said.

Former Redbird Nick Martini (.308, 6 HR, 40 RBI, .415 OBP), now with the Nashville Sounds, is also on the PCL All-Star squad while ex-Bird Chad Huffman (.256, 7 HR, 25 RBI), now with the Toledo Mud Hens, was picked as the IL’s designated hitter.

It will be a busy week away from AZP for Hudson, who will play for the U.S. team in Sunday’s MLB All-Star Futures Game, set for 3 p.m. (CDT) at Nationals Park in Washington. Redbirds outfielder Randy Arozarena, from Cuba, will play on the World squad. This game also will be broadcast on MLB Network.

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