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Ethan Wilson Could Follow Travis Swaggerty’s Lead At South Alabama

When the Pirates selected South Alabama outfielder Travis Swaggerty 10th overall in 2018, it was just the second time in 27 years that a Jaguar was drafted among the top 10 picks in the draft.

But luckily for the South Alabama program, it won’t have to wait that long again. That’s because third-year sophomore outfielder Ethan Wilson projects as a top 10 overall pick this summer if he continues his current trajectory.

The pandemic may have cost him most of last season and a summer showcase opportunity in the Cape Cod League or with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, but it has barely put a dent in Wilson’s draft stock. Thanks to his loud offensive tools, he was voted a Preseason All-American by major league scouting directors and enters the 2021 season as one of the most exciting hitters in all of college baseball.

Just don’t expect Wilson to care about any of that. He readily admits that he sees the articles. But for now, Wilson and the Jaguars have unfinished business to take care of as they try to return to regionals for the first time since Swaggerty roamed the outfield.

“On paper, I think this is the best team South (Alabama) has had in a while,” Wilson said. “I think we have a different mentality this year, and I have really high hopes for this team. The draft stuff will take care of itself.”

If the Jaguars are going to make a regional this season, Wilson will undoubtedly have an outsized impact, a fact that very few would have predicted just two years ago when Wilson was a high school senior with just two Division I scholarship offers.

South Alabama coach Mark Calvi knew how good Wilson was even before he set foot on campus. The rest of college baseball soon found out. He hit 17 home runs with an eye-popping .345/.453/.686 slash line. The batting average wasn’t necessarily surprising to scouts or coaches who were always impressed with his ability to spray the ball all over the field. But the plus power was somewhat unexpected and it has transformed Wilson from an excellent college player into one of the best professional prospects in the sport.

A corner outfielder with just average arm strength, Wilson will never be confused with Swaggerty defensively. But his athleticism and baseball IQ mean that he is hardly a liability in the outfield. Perhaps the surest sign that his professional future is bright is that his work ethic has already become the stuff of legend in the South Alabama clubhouse.

Calvi remembers having to sit Wilson down during the middle of his freshman season so that he could tell his star player to take a few days off from the batting cages so he didn’t wear down. Catcher Reid Powers remembers a similar story.

“We would play five games in a week and then come back and play on Tuesday the next week,” Powers said. “I would be ready to hit the ice bath and Ethan would go 3-for-4 and be in the cages after the game anyway. He really just changed our clubhouse environment with his work ethic.”

The question now is whether that leadership and work ethic and talent can translate into wins for a program that, like many others, benefited from the decision to shorten the draft. Calvi says that players like Powers and outfielder Michael Sandle and newcomer Caleb Balgaard all would have entered the professional ranks in a normal season. He is also excited about a pitching staff that he thinks will be deeper, despite losing Friday starter Drake Nightengale.

Wilson agrees with his coach and says that he feels less pressure than he did last season because of additions like Balgaard to the middle of the lineup. But he also recognizes that he is a leader on the team and that his teammates look to him for inspiration. If the Jaguars are going to make noise this season, Wilson knows that he will need to be as good, if not better, than he was as a freshman. Something that, given all of his talent and intangibles, doesn’t seem like it will be all that difficult.

“He is the best hitter I’ve ever played with,” said Powers, who played with Swaggerty in 2018. “He is also the best teammate I’ve ever had. I’ve never heard him boast or do anything that wasn’t to help the team. I know it sounds cliche, but he really does make the rest of the team better.”

Powers may be right that making teammates better is a cliche. But for South Alabama’s sake, they better hope their catcher is right.

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