When scouts watched Greg Golson in high school, many of them thought he would struggle to adjust to professional baseball.
That didn’t deter the Phillies, however, from making Golson their first-round draft pick in 2004 with the 21st overall selection, gambling on Golson’s potential five-tool package and unparallelled athleticism in his draft class.
But with the first-round pedigree and a $1.475 million signing bonus comes a spotlight and high expectations, and Golson struggled in his first professional season. He hit .264/.322/.389 with low Class A Lakewood in 2005 and owned a .260/.304/.399 career minor league line in 405 games entering this season.
"He’s a tireless worker and a good teammate," said Double-A Reading manager P.J. Forbes, now in his third season with Reading. "Something he talked about early with me is how he wanted to have a lot of fun this year and enjoy the game. So much had been written about him that I think, in his mind, he wasn’t living up to it. I think in his mind, he just wanted to go out, have fun and play. I try to remind him of that because thats what he told me earlier."
Whether it’s just a hot stretch or a signal of true improvement, the offensive output has been good for Golson this season. Through Monday’s games, the 22-year-old was hitting .331/.374/.503 in 175 plate appearances through 40 games for Reading, while his 14 stolen bases in 17 attempts are tied for second in the Eastern League.
“He’s doing a better job of covering the outer part of the plate, which was his bane from the beginning when we got him,” Forbes said. “He’s putting the ball in play more often—I’m not sure of the numbers, but he’s getting two-strike hits, two-strike infield hits and he’s got four or five bunt base hits. With his tools, especially his speed, he’s realizing that a tough two-strike, put-the-ball-in-play approach is going to benefit him.”
Speed isn’t Golson’s only tool. He has above-average raw power, although he has struggled to tap into that power with his approach at the plate. Last year with high Class A Clearwater, Golson hit .285/.322/.450 in 449 plate appearances, then struggled upon a promotion to Reading, where he hit .242/.255/.359 in 158 plate appearances. Golson didn’t show much selectivity, though, rarely drawing walks and leading the minors with 179 strikeouts.
|GREG GOLSON 2007|
|TEAM||BB||SO||BB Rate||SO Rate|
|Clearwater (High A)||21||124||4.7%||27.6%|
|Reading (Double-A)||2||49||1.2 %||30.0%|
This season, Golson is striking out and walking at a sliver of a better pace from last year, though in only 175 plate appearances it’s still within the realm of random variance.
|GREG GOLSON 2008|
|TEAM||BB||SO||BB Rate||SO Rate|
So far this year, Golson has leveraged his power and his speed to get on base. On balls in play, Golson is batting .445, the best mark of any EL hitter with at least 100 at-bats. He won’t be able to keep that mark up for the rest of the season, but his plus-plus speed allows him to leg out infield hits, while his raw power allows him to hit the ball with authority when he does make contact.
“He’s got power,” Forbes said. “He’s not just going to hit the ball on the ground. He can use the whole field, let the ball get deeper, get jammed at times and still leg out a hit. Seeing that is a huge step in the right direction for him. I’d still like to see him draw more walks and strike out less.
“For me it’s more mental than it is anything else—the state of mind to put the ball in play with two strikes and take what the pitcher’s giving you, and to be willing to get jammed on occasion and be confident to put the ball in play.”
Golson first realized the difference between high Class A and Double-A pitchers last year, when he saw the superiority of pitchers’ command in the EL.
“In Double-A and big league camp and in the (Arizona) Fall League last year, there would be pitches,” Golson said, “maybe one or two pitches in an at-bat when the ump calls is a strike and you’re like, ‘No it’s not.’ But you think about it, and you realize they’re right.”
One thing that scouts don’t question is Golson’s excellent defense. With 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale and an above-average arm, Golson is the best defensive outfielder in the Phillies organization and one of the better defensive outfielders in the minor leagues.
“He’s running balls down as well as anybody and throwing the ball as well as anybody,” Forbes said. “I’m talking about accuracy and arm strength—you can’t take extra bases on him. He’s just that type of defender. He got an error the other day on a ball that no one gets to in the league, and it went off his glove, but it’s only because of the ground he covers. He’s an exciting guy to watch.”
Blessed with the raw tools to be a superb defensive outfielder, Golson said his fielding acumen has developed further this year.
“I’ve gotten a lot better at adjusting to different parks,” Golson said. “The ball carries differently in some parks and I’ve gotten a little better at taking that into account when the ball is in the air. When the ball’s in the air, I’m realizing the wind’s going to push the ball this way or realizing the situation, the time of the game and how important the runs are, and a lot of it has to do with maturing as a player.”