ROME, GA -- While many of the 5,000-plus spectators at State Mutual were on hand to see the Columbia Fireflies Tim Tebow, I was excited to see what Bryce Wilson had in store. The young righty had shown mixed results in his first two outings, so I was curious to see how he would respond in front of such a large crowd.
Wilson was drafted last June, selected in the fourth round out of high school in North Carolina. There he played football and baseball, primarily suiting up at linebacker. He was committed to the Tar Heels, but the Braves lured him away.
He stands at 6-foot-1 and 225, so there isn't much reason to expect much more growth. Heading into the draft, many felt he was a future reliever -- primarily due to his arsenal -- but the Braves have thus far kept him in the rotation. The results have been very good.
So, what is this arsenal?
Wilson is a hard thrower, with pretty decent command of his fastball. It comes across the plate consistently at 95 with little issue and has some movement making it a tricky pitch for opposing hitters. His secondary stuff is the question mark. He has what he calls his slider, but there looked to be some slurve to it. It has some nice break to it and was hitting around 81.
Lastly is his change. Like most dominant high school pitchers with a moving fastball, there is little need for a third pitch. This has been the case with Wilson. I was told heading into the game that he needs to throw it more, especially in big places when it mattered. I left feeling the same. It was a pitch that certainly looked usable with some more work, hitting about 85, but still seldom used.
"I need to work on throwing more strikes, I don't want to walk as many people as I have been," Wilson said. "The slider is working pretty well, the change up is developing. I need to work on commanding all of the pitches. I've been working on my changeup a lot more."
Whether he sticks in the rotation or heads to the pen, moxie and makeup are certainly a huge factor. Wilson showed that by the boatload, seemingly unfazed by the sellout crowd.
"The adrenaline was definitely pumping," Wilson said. "It was a great home crowd. A lot of them were there to see Tim Tebow, but it was still great to pitch in front of that kind of crowd. It was a great experience.
"I had a few experiences like that in football, but never a crowd like that in baseball."
Wilson came out and threw two balls. He came firing back and struck out the next two batters, making Desmond Lindsay look lost on one of his sliders. He was effectively wild in that first inning, throwing 21 pitches, 11 of which landed for strikes, but was never in real trouble.
"Kind of have to step off the back of the mound and take a deep breath," Wilson said. "Keep your composure. Other than that, stay composed for the rest of the game and not let the atmosphere get to you."
He cruised through a 1-2-3 second, striking out Jay Jabs on a 95 mile per hour heater and really had no trouble until the fifth inning. The fourth inning saw probably the hardest ball hit against Wilson all night, but Anfernee Seymour's 80-grade speed flagged down the deep gapper to left-center.
Wilson was through four hitless innings. Not too shabby.
"Phenomenal," Rome manager Randy Ingle said. "He really did, he pitched phenomenal, he just ran out of pitches."
The fifth inning was Wilson's last, and he wasn't even hit hard. A series of errors allowed an unearned run to cross or else he likely would have made it through the inning.
"I had no doubt that he could get out of that inning," Ingle said. "I had confidence he could. He had his pitches. We're on that pitch count right now until they get built up. We gave him a couple extra pitches trying to get out of it, and he could have. Five innings would have been the win, but it didn't turn out that way. Were not going to jeopardize any player's future out there to get them a win."
Wilson's final line was 4.2 innings, 1 hit, 1 unearned run, 2 walks and 3 strikeouts. The command could use improvement, as he landed just 46 of his 82 pitches for strikes. That being said, almost any time he fell behind in a count, he settled down and got himself out of trouble. That shows a feel for the strike zone and the command should come with more starts.
There is a lot to like about Wilson. He works fast, maintains his velocity on the fastball (he was still fast in the fifth with just a tick of a drop off) and limits runs. He's made three starts on the season, with a 1.98 ERA and 13-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio and limiting opponents to a .170 batting average.
It will be interesting to see how that change develops and what kind of success Wilson has the more he gets stretched out. Stay tuned Braves fans, Wilson is definitely one to keep tabs on.