C.J. WILSON'S JOUNEY THROUGH AGONY AND ECSTASY
Despite missing more than a year due to elbow surgery, pitcher C.J. Wilson spent less than five seasons in the minors and was a World Series starter last season.
Ups and Downs
C.J. Wilson began his professional baseball career where all 5th round draft choices go—the instructional league. He made eight starts in the Appalachian League, was promoted to the Single A South Atlantic minor league, and then opened the 2002 season pitching in the Florida State A+ League, finishing the year in Double-A Tulsa.
In two seasons, Wilson jumped four levels of minor league ball. He wasn’t a dominant pitcher, but as a left-handed starter he was making steady progress, one step at a time.
“I try to do something new every year. I try to get better at everything,” Wilson said. “Like this year, I’ve tried to work on my change up so it would be better than last year. Next year I have better control than I have this year. It’s the evolution of things.”
However, in the 2003 season Wilson took a step back. He allowed more home runs (11) that he had the previous two seasons combined, according to Baseball America, and he allowed more runs that he had in any season. As it turned out, Wilson had been pitching with a sore elbow and had Tommy John surgery in August that year.
After a year away from baseball, Wilson returned to the mound in 2005 and picked up where he had left off. Despite some early struggles, Wilson still had pinpoint control and was throwing harder than ever, so Texas promoted him to the big leagues. He made his major league debut on June 11 and finished the season with 48 innings pitched, including six starts, to solidify himself as a top prospect for the Rangers.
The 2006 season was his last in the minor leagues. After 13 innings of pitching in the Double-A and Triple-A level, he converted 24 of 28 save opportunities and found a permanent spot in the Rangers’ bullpen for the next four seasons. Despite missing an entire year, Wilson reached his goal of playing in the majors within five seasons.“I really believe in the evolution of things,” Wilson says. “You can shave off little bits of inefficiency and make yourself more creative, or make yourself more talented, with an infinite amount of time. That’s what I’ve been able to do my whole career.”
In 2010, Wilson was moved into the starting rotation and his pitching began to flourish. Over the next two seasons he made 67 starts, won 31 games and had a 3.14 ERA. In the 2011 season, Wilson finished with a 16-7 record, 206 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.94, ranking him third in the American League behind Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver. He also was named to the American League All Star team.
Wilson started five postseason games for the Rangers, and although he pitched well in two World Series starts last season, he took the loss in both games. Still, he had pitched well enough during the season to become the most sought-after free agent pitcher on the market this past off-season.
Wilson had a short list of places he’d like to play, and the Angels were near the top, along with the Rangers and Marlins. He didn’t have long to wait. Wilson met with Angels’ executives in November, and by the time the Winter Meetings were held in December, Wilson had received a contract offer from the Angels.
“I was very curious to see how interested they were in me,” Wilson says. “When my agent told me (they were interested), the first thing I thought of was, ‘Wow, this is going to be an unbelievable starting staff.’ With Ervin (Santana) and Jered (Weaver) and Dan (Haren) already there, and then with me, it was like, ‘Wow, this could be a really fun place to play.’”
On December 8, 2011, a date that Wilson and every Angels fan will remember forever, both he and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Poulos signed multi-year contracts. Poulos signed a 10-year, $240-million deal while Wilson agreed to a five-year, $77.5 million deal.
“They (the Angels) were the first ones on the scene. They were the ones who worked the hardest to get me. That’s why I signed with them,” Wilson says.
Asked if the signing of Poulos made a difference in where he signed, Wilson didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Of course,” he said. “I talked to my agent about that, and there was a lot said during the season and at the end of the season. There were a lot of questions. If Poulos stayed in St. Louis, then St. Louis would have been a place I would have liked to play. I had no idea the Angels were going after him, so it was kind of a surprise.
“I told my agent, ‘Wait, they are going to go after him (Poulos) and go after me? They really must be (committed to winning). That was a fun evening.”
Wilson went back to Texas that night and packed his bags. He was going home.
In Part 3, C.J. Wilson talks about his life away from the ballpark and his expectations for this season.
By Mike Casey
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