Tilson Stands Out At Midwest Workout
McCOOK, Ill.—It has been almost 15 years since a high school position player from Illinois was taken in the first round of the draft. If Charlie Tilson has anything to do with it, that streak could come to a halt in June.
"It would be an incredible honor, it's any athletes' dream to get an opportunity to play at the most elite level, and to get taken in a prestigious round would be unbelievable," said Tilson, an outfielder from New Trier High in Winnetka, Ill. "As far as being from Illinois, baseball is America's game, and getting a chance to promote baseball in Illinois and the Midwest would be a great honor."
The Orioles took Jayson Werth with the 22nd pick in 1997, and since then several Illinois prep pitchers have gone early in the draft—Mike Foltynewicz was taken just last year by the Astros with the 19th overall pick—but no position players, save for the 1999 Padres' supplemental selection of Nick Trzesniak, have been first-rounders.
Sure, a lot could change in the next five months; there's no guarantee any player will be taken early and history is working against him, but Tilson has positioned himself to be considered a top-round pick.
That was evident on Sunday, when scouts got a first-hand look at some of the best the Midwest has to offer at the Super 60 Showcase, put on by Prep Baseball Report, in suburban Chicago. Players from Indiana, Missouri and Illinois, like Tilson, ran 60-yard dashes, threw bullpens, and took infield/outfield and batting practice.
At the event, Tilson, who has an athletic and solid 6-foot, 175-pound frame, showed flashes of the tools that landed him the 17th spot in Baseball America's High School Top 100. He ran a 6.73-second 60-yard dash on a notoriously slow FieldTurf surface that event organizers said impedes runners by an average of one- to three-tenths of a second. Tilson also registered a throw from the outfield at 89 mph and sprayed line drives across the indoor field.
"Once he got his timing down after the first round, Tilson really took it to another level in the second round of BP. It was the best round of BP of anybody there," an American League area scout said. "He had really good balance, and the bat works through the zone really loose. You can tell he knew what he was doing. . . . Defensively, he looks like he's got pretty good first-step quickness, and the ball comes out of his hand well and has some pretty good carry. He's got a good arm, it's a pretty fluid stroke."
To scouts and coaches who had seen Tilson before, the Super 60 wasn't his best overall performance. He usually runs in the 6.5-second range in the 60-yard dash, and he struggled to get into a rhythm during batting practice. But several people said Tilson's tools play up in games, even though he may not have "wowed" observers in the showcase.
"He's not an absolute tool shed—he's not a guy that shows plus-plus tools across the board in a workout setting," a National League area scout said. "Charlie appears to do everything well, but no one thing that well. . . . And I think that's good. A lot of times we look for huge tools or performance and we can't see what's right in front of us."
Though his on-field play draws attention, Tilson also has been noted for his mental approach to the game from his closest observers, like Todd Fine, the co-owner of Prep Baseball Report and the director of player development for Top Tier Baseball, a travel team based out of Illinois that has sent 150 players to Division-I schools in the last seven years. Fine has known Tilson since the outfielder was in middle school.
"Charlie's the kind of kid that you could watch in a showcase all day, but I don't know if that's going to express the intangibles that kid has to offer," Fine said. "I don't know that Charlie's ever going to be the biggest, strongest, fastest guy out there, but his makeup is pretty special, and I don't think you've ever seen makeup show up in a showcase."
For all his tools and makeup, Tilson flew under the national prospect radar until last August, when he smacked a home run in his first at-bat of the Area Code Games in California. It was the showcase's only long ball hit, and it came at Blair Field, an infamous pitcher's park. As the AL scout said, Tilson became "the talk of Long Beach."
"That was really something else, it was a really exciting time for me," Tilson said. "Being a guy from the Midwest, you hear a lot of stories about the baseball they play in the South, so it was definitely intimidating going into it. . . . I actually told a teammate, my roommate (at the Area Code Games, Dylan Delso, a catcher from Broken Arrow High in Oklahoma), in batting practice that it's such a big park with the wind blowing in all the time—he was saying, 'Man, I really hope I could hit one out this tournament, that would be awesome.' I started laughing and said, 'Dude, I couldn't drive a golf ball out of here, let alone a 90 mph fastball.' I remember when I crossed the plate, he gave me a hard time about it."
Instead of playing for summer travel teams or focusing on national showcases, Tilson played local legion baseball for his high school coach Mike Napoleon during the last three summers. All along, Tilson followed a simple thought process: If you're good enough, they'll find you; if you have ability, you'll get noticed.
It worked. Scouts learned about Tilson, and so did the University of Illinois, where Tilson committed for college.
"(Illinois') coaching staff are great guys, they know what they're doing and they know how to treat their players, and most importantly they know how to win games," Tilson said. "We're a great fit—they have the same style of play that I carry with me. They steal a lot of bases, they like to bunt and move runners a lot. And another thing is, growing up here, it's kind of a pride thing. You want to represent not only your home state but also playing up north."
But that has led to questions a lot of scouts and prospect followers are wondering about: How strong is Tilson's commitment to Illinois? And how tough will it be to sign him away from Champaign?
"I haven't put much thought into it, I just want to focus on getting better and let the chips fall into play in the spring" Tilson said. "I'm certainly keeping my options open, and whatever the situation is will have to be right for me. . . . As of now, I'm not really shutting the door on anything, and I'm not picking anything. But college is definitely very important to me."
For the last few months, Tilson's top priority in getting better simply has been to get healthy. He dislocated his right, non-throwing shoulder in September of New Trier's football season. But after his recovery, Tilson has turned his focus to the spring, when he'll bat leadoff for the Trevians after hitting in the three-hole for the last two years.
"I'm really looking forward to it," Tilson said." I've known that my ultimate role is going to be as a leadoff hitter, so that I can use my speed. I'm looking forward to getting on and stealing some bases."
Aside from Tilson, several other players stood out at the Super 60. The following offers a few players who performed well, with comments from the NL scout.
The only player in BA's High School Top 100 other than Tilson at the event was Johnny Eierman, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound shortstop from Warsaw High (Mo.). Eierman, who ranks 48th on the high school top 100, is committed to LSU.
"His swing path was a little bit different, he's loosened up quite a bit. In the summer when I saw him, there was a little more stiffness in his swing. There was a little more top hand involved and a little less extension, a lot of rollovers and a lot of pulled balls, at least in batting practice. To me, that was the neat thing about Johnny. In watching batting practice, you can be fooled. You can look at it and say, "Eww." Then when they played the game, he drove the ball to the right-center gap, he drove it to the left-center gap, he really ran and threw it fine. His swing was a little longer (Sunday), but it worked to the bigger parts of the field. I thought he had a better chance to drive the ball anywhere. He's still somebody I'm going to see early and often."
Of the 28 pitchers to throw a bullpen session on Sunday, three cracked the 90-mph mark. The first was Brandon Magaollones, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound righty from Providence Catholic High (Ill.). Magaollones, who is committed to Northwestern, sat at 88-90 mph with his fastball, and showed two offspeed pitches: a sharp 73-75 mph curveball and a 76-79 mph changeup.
"I saw him in a summer game, and he pitched at about 87, but it was good to see him do that and get to that velocity. That definitely put a priority to the day, him coming in ready to throw like that. . . . When I saw him in the summer, he had an effective out pitch, an effective slurvy-type breaking ball. His breaks late and his has two-plane break, so it can be effective. He still has the ability to spin it."
Tyler Farrell, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound righty from Galesburg High (Ill.) showed the best velocity of the day. Farrell, a Western Illinois recruit, consistently pumped 90-93 mph fastballs to go along with a biting 77-78 mph curveball and an 80-81 mph changeup.
"In general, Galesburg is not a magnet, scouts aren't flying to Galesburg to see players, at least not recently. His was not a name that I had seen in the national publications, so it was a bit of a surprise. I think there was a reaction a lot of the college campuses when coaches heard that a kid from Galesburg that was signed to Western Illinois threw like Tyler did, touching the low 90s. Kudos to Western for doing a great job."
For scouts hoping to get an early jump on the class of 2013, Bryce Only, 6-foot, 180-pound shortstop from Huntley High (Ill.), stood out. Only ran a 7.52-second 60-yard dash, but he flashed solid actions and a line-drive swing.
"He wasn't as impressive as some of the current seniors, but I kept reminding myself of how young he is. He showed solid hands, and he'll need to strengthen his arm if he wants to stay on the left side of the infield. Although he didn't run great, there's room for strength and improvement there. But I'll tell you what, someone taught him how to swing the bat, because it was an impressive approach and I thought advanced for a kid his age."