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Jacob Wilson: Allen Craig 2.0?

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There's a player in the Cardinals' system who looks remarkably like one of the farm's more recent success stories. Let's take a look, shall we?

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First, a random thing.

Action Bronson's track "Easy Rider" has finally, after fifteen years, usurped the top spot on my own personal list of my favourite bits of sampling in a hip-hop track. The piece in question -- which is pretty outstanding on its own merits, by the way -- samples a song from the early 70s by a Turkish rock group named either Mazhar ve Fuat or Mazhar Fuat Ozkan, depending on what source you check. (It may be an instance of them changing the name over time with a member not always being around, or it could be a language issue in the way the name is presented; I don't honestly know and haven't really done more than cursory research at any point.)

The original track, entitled "Adimiz Miskindir Bizim", features one of my favourite basslines of all time in any song, and while it's certainly a little obscure, I find it kind of unbelievable it took until 2014 for someone to come across the piece and pull something good out of it. Considering Party Supplies, the producer responsible for the Action Bronson track, also produced "Barry Horowitz", by the same artist, which, coincidentally or not, also features one of probably my top five or seven samples of all time (Dry Bread's "Words to My Song"), I think it's fair to say he may be my favourite producer of the moment.

Oh, and in case you're wondering why I would have any idea what song is being sampled in Easy Rider, I have to admit, it's one of the weirder bits of useless knowledge I possess, but back around 1997 or '98, when Cornershop's first record came out, I got way into Bollywood movies, the music of said era, Mohammed Rafi specifically (which is why I was incredibly excited a couple years ago when a Heineken commercial biting from Rafi's "Jaan Pehechaan Ho"), and eventually moved into a fair amount of other near-Eastern pop music of the late 60s and early 70s, which is when I happened to come across Mazhar Fuat Ozkan.

And the sample which previously occupied the top space on my personal list? Busta Rhymes' appropriation of the symphonic theme from "Psycho" for his 1998 single "Gimme Some More", which pulled out and distilled the absolute best four-second bit of Bernard Herrmann's memorable classic.

Bonus factoid: did you know that Eminem's "My Name Is", from his Slim Shady LP and "Can It Be All So Simple", from the Wu Tang Clan's legendary debut, are both built on samples from the exact same Labi Siffre track, called "I Got The..."? Well, now you do! (The sample from the Wu track begins right after about the two minute mark; the Eminem sample kicks in around 2:30 or so.) And here you thought you weren't going to learn anything today.

Also, just as a public service, several of those tracks are completely, utterly, almost shockingly not safe for work, so click at your own risk. And, since the Baron is so totally opposed to censored, cleaned-up lyrics in music, you aren't getting any edited-track links from me. So, you know.

And that has been this week's edition of "Weird Crap I was Thinking About When I Sat Down at the Computer". Thank you for reading.

*******

Alright, now that that's out of the way, what do you say we talk about some baseball, huh?

The Cardinals sent several players to the Arizona Fall League this year, some more interesting, some less so. Sam Tuivailala and his magic arm (and even more magic curveball), is certainly one of the more intriguing names; Tyrell Jenkins and his exciting-but-somewhat-puzzling combination of repertoire and results even more so.

Of all the players the Cards sent to the desert this autumn, though, there's one who really intrigues me more than any of the others. And it's almost assuredly not the player you would expect. Well, unless you're literate and happened to read the title of this column, in which case I probably pretty much ruined the surprise completely several minutes ago. Stupid SEO guidelines.

Anyhow, the player in question is Jacob Wilson. Could you at least act surprised? Gasp a little? Pretend to have the vapours and cast about for a fainting couch? No? Nothing? Fine. Moving on. I hate you all, by the way.

The thing is, there's really no reason for me to find Jacob Wilson more exciting than either of the other two players I just mentioned. After all, Jenkins was a super-high ceiling draft pick in the supplemental round a few years ago (2010, I think?), who possesses great stuff and tremendous athleticism, while Tuivailala could legitimately pull Craig Kimbrel comps if his command were a couple steps better than it is. Why in the world would Jacob Wilson, with what looks like a utility infielder ceiling in the big leagues, be the guy I'm most interested in following at the moment?

Because he looks an awful lot like Allen Craig, and while things with Craig went horribly awry this past season, he also contributed a ton of value to the Cardinal cause before 2014's derailment. And I find it very interesting the Cards look like they may have such a similar player coming up the ladder.

First, it should be said Wilson is a bit smaller physically, and probably a shade better athlete overall. He's listed at six foot even and 195 pounds, while Craig goes 6'2" and 215. Still, despite Craig being a bit bigger, the two have similar enough frames.

Craig was drafted out of the University of California back in 2006 in the eighth round, number 256 overall. He came out of school having played a fair bit of shortstop in college, but he was one of those players whose best position, it was clear from the outset, was 'hitter'. We all know the story from there: Craig moved to third in the minors, then to the outfield, then briefly to second base at the big league level under Tony "Anyone Can Play Second" LaRussa, then over to first base, then back to the outfield full-time when 2014 saw Carlos Beltran depart and Matt Adams demand more opportunities for playing time. Allen was capable of playing pretty much any of those positions at an acceptable level (though his arm was apparently ill-suited to the hot corner, mostly due to a slow release), but never much excelled at any of them.

Wilson was selected from the University of Memphis in the tenth round of the 2012, pick number 330 overall. He played primarily third base for the Tigers, but his university bio page lists his positions as 'INF'. So, you know, he wasn't exactly tied to the hot corner or anything. He was a four-year player for Memphis, much like...yep, you guessed it. Allen Craig. Also much like Craig, since being drafted, Wilson has moved around the diamond, and pretty much done nothing but hit all the while.

The one real advantage Wilson has over Craig is that bit earlier I mentioned about him possibly being a bit more athletic. Where Craig struggled to hold down third base and ended up way over on the bad side of the defensive spectrum for the most part, Wilson actually looks as if he can handle the keystone at an acceptable, if not particularly exciting, level. Of course, the presence of Kolten Wong at the major league level means the Cardinals likely won't be looking for a second baseman anytime soon, but the fact Wilson can handle a position that far left on the defensive spectrum is certainly cause for optimism in his future. He's shown he can play third in college, has handled second in the minors, and I'm sure could learn to man first base at a reasonable level of competence given time to do so. I'm not sure if he's played any outfield to date, but I would just about imagine you could stick him in left field if need be as well.

What's even more intriguing about the comparison, to me at least, are the offensive similarities in the two players. Craig's career walk and strikeout rates are 7.1% and 19.1%, respectively; Wilson's numbers actually clock in even better than that, at 9.2% and 15.3%. However, if we go to minor league totals for Craig as opposed to the highest level of competition, we get 7.3% for the walk rate (which I admit I thought would be more divergent from his MLB numbers), and a kind of amazing 11..0% for strikeouts. So, Wilson does strike out more often in the minors than Craig did, but he also walks a bit more, which helps to offset the difference.

To date, Wilson has produced a .266/.344/.438 line in the minors, good for a .782 OPS. Craig's .284/.341/.500 line in the minors initially looks a fair bit more impressive, but the run scoring environment in the minors has undergone a similar downturn as at the major league level (for the most part), so while the raw numbers favour Craig significantly, the adjusted numbers are a fair bit closer.

For instance, in 2008 Craig played his age 23/24 season at Springfield, spending the entire year in the comfy confines of Hammonds Field and producing an .867 OPS/129 wRC+ line over 568 plate appearances. Wilson just completed his age 23/24 season (conveniently, he and Allen Craig's birthdays are only ten days apart, so it's easy to compare), and reached Double A for the first time. He actually outproduced Craig in a much smaller sampling of plate appearances (he began the season in High A Palm Beach and actually struggled to hit for power there, to the tune of an ISO below .100, though he still produced offensively overall), putting up a 153 wRC+ in 145 plate appearances, but that numbers looks to be bolstered by a ton of doubles (13 in 131 at-bats), which likely would have evened out over a larger sample. Craig hit for a .190 ISO in 2008; Wilson put up a .214 this year in Springfield; again, with the SSS doubles caveat. Craig hit 22 homers in those 568 plate appearances, or about one every 26 trips to the dish; Wilson hit 5 in 145 PAs, or about one in every 25 times up.

Craig's Double A strikeout rate in 2008 was 15.3%, while Wilson's was 15.9%. Craig's walk rate was 8.5%; Wilson's checked in at 7.6%.

Both players are right-handed hitters with opposite-field strokes. Now, I will admit that Wilson has yet to put up the kind of home run totals in the minors that Craig did on his way up the ladder; while the per-PA rate of homers in Double A might look remarkably similar, Wilson really hasn't busted out at any stop for a big number yet. Still, there's pop in the bat, and that tradeoff of somewhat lesser power for a bit better athleticism looks like it just may be the way things are.

So how similar are Jacob Wilson and Allen Craig, really? Well, to be honest, I wouldn't have spent 1500 words talking about the two if I didn't feel there was a decent chance there's something there. When Allen Craig was coming up through the Cardinals' system, he looked to be a solid bet as a utility player whose bat was good enough to get him in the lineup more often than you might think given his lack of a position. So far, Wilson looks like he might be much the same, with perhaps even a better chance of fulfilling that true utility role due to his somewhat superior athletic ability. He can actually play both second and third base, two positions Allen Craig never really received much serious consideration for.

Wilson performed well in the AFL this autumn, his second straight year playing in the finishing school of the minors. He put up a .122 wRC+ in 88 trips to the plate, continuing his trend of hitting lots of doubles. (He hit seven two-baggers in those 88 PAs.) A right-handed hitting, jack of all position, all-fields spraying, middle-round college senior draftee?

We'll just have to wait and see, obviously. But, if the Cardinals are looking for a utility infielder to spell one or all of their left-handed hitters who play three of the four infield positions who hits from the right side, well...I'm thinking there's a decent chance that player is already in the the system.

The fact he looks so similar to another player who was so good so recently is just a bonus.

Bye, all. See you next Wednesday,

Also, I hope you'll forgive the lateness of this post. I had originally thought this was a 500-800 word column on this subject, at the most. And, of course, we see how that worked out.

Oh, and one last thing: watch this hit and then tell me you don't see what I'm talking about.