Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies in the ninth inning of Game Three of the NLCS, October 19 2010. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Per reader request, here is a Career Profile for San Francisco Giants right-hander Brian Wilson.
Brian Wilson was a 24th round pick in 2003, out of Louisiana State University. He was a good college pitcher but blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery two months before the draft. He signed, completed his rehab, then pitched 57 innings of relief for Hagerstown in the Sally League in 2004, posting a 5.34 ERA with a 41/22 K/BB and 63 hits allowed. He didn't throw hard, looked out-of-shape physically, and drew complaints from scouts that he didn't take the game seriously. There was no statistical or scouting reason to include him in the 2005 book. He would have received a Grade C at that point, waiting to see if getting another year past the surgery would result in a rebound.
It did. Wilson got himself back into top physical condition for 2005, regained his 90-95 MPH fastball, sharpened his control, and showed a better curveball. The results were immediate: a 0.82 ERA with a 30/7 K/BB and 13 saves in 26 innings for Low-A Augusta, a 0.57 ERA with a 22/5 K/BB and eight saves in 16 innings for Double-A Norwich, then a 3.97 ERA and a 13/8 K/BB in 11 innings for Triple-A Fresno. His K/IP was great and scouts gave his curveball in particular high grades. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2006 book, writing that he "looked like a bullpen sleeper to me" and that the strikeout rates were particularly attractive.
Wilson split 2006 between Triple-A Fresno (2.89 ERA, 30/14 K/BB in 28 innings, 20 hits) and the San Francisco Giants bullpen (5.52 ERA, 23/20 K/BB in 29 innings, 31 hits). He was getting his fastball into the mid-90s but had some trouble commanding the breaking ball (now a slider) in his major league outings. He was also bothered by a strained oblique muscle that may have fiddled with his mechanics and command. I had him in the 2007 book as a Grade C+ again, noting that he had a chance to improve with more experience and that Giants officials were starting to talk him up as a future closer.
He split 2007 between Fresno (2.10 ERA, 37/24 K/BB in 34 innings, 11 saves) and San Francisco again (2.28 ERA, 18/7 K/BB in 24 innings, six saves), losing his eligibility for rookie status but doing much better in his second look at the National League. He took over as the full-time closer for the Giants in 2008, with 41 saves albeit with a 4.62 ERA. He picked up 38 more saves in '09 then 48 more in '10, with improving component ratios each year.
Wilson's K/9 rates have improved each full season: 9.7 in '08, 10.3 in '09, and 11.2 in '10. His BB/9 is also improving, and he's been cutting a full run off his ERA every year. His FIPs show a similar trend (3.93 to 2.50 to 2.19), so this is not just better luck benefiting the ERA. His fastball velocities are holding steady in the 95-96 MPH range. His main breaking ball is the slider now, contrasting with the curve he threw earlier in his career.
Few 24th round picks develop into valuable commodities, but Wilson certainly has. In his case, it was successful recovery from Tommy John surgery, followed by a renewed dedication to the game after a poor pro debut, that turned the trick. This is an example that teams are increasingly following, taking a shot with TJ survivors who get hurt in the months before the draft.