Editor's Note: Red Baron has compiled this year's top prospects in three parts, which can be found by clicking on Part I, Part II, and Part III. The post below is a portion of those massive posts, focusing in on a single prospect at a time, which should make a search of any one prospect easier to find. All of our 2016 prospect coverage and write-ups can be found at the Viva El Birdos 2016 Prospects hub.
#12: Charlie Tilson, OF
Opening Day 2016 Age: 23
2015 Level: Double A Springfield, Arizona Fall League
Relevant Numbers: 12.1% K rate (Springfield), 50 SB in 663 PAs, 107 wRC+ (Springfield)
So, what's so great about this guy?
Tilson was an overslot draftee back in 2011, taken by the Cardinals with their next pick after selecting Kolten Wong. At the time, he was a raw, athletic bundle of muscle fibers from an Illinois high school who ran like a deer in center field and every once in awhile turned on a pitch in such a way as to showcase plus raw power potential. The ceiling, in other words, was very high.
Since then, the speed has remained, but the power he would show from time to time with metal bats in school has never materialised as a professional. Looking at the swing, it's probably never going to much show up for Tilson, either. In other words, the ceiling is not nearly so high these days.
On the other hand, he's also advanced steadily toward the big leagues, even with a severe shoulder injury early in his career that nearly derailed him before he could even get on track in the first place. He may never possess even average power on a night-in, night-out basis, but that doesn't mean there's no opportunity for Tilson to contribute.
The speed still plays very well in center field, where he's capable of running down balls in all parts of center field. He's a gap-to-gap player, legitimately, and there's reason to believe he could make an impact with his glove. The arm is below-average, so if he's not in center, left is probably the best fit for Tilson. Still, one would assume he'll see most of the action he sees in center, simply because of the difficulty of finding that position.
Offensively, Tilson has worked diligently on improving his contact skills, and his 12.1% K rate at Springfield was the best of his career. He's not a particularly patient hitter, largely due to lacking the power to force pitchers to be cautious, but he also won't get himself out very often. On the bases, Tilson can do some real damage with his legs, and improved markedly in the basestealing arena this past year. I saw him play three games in person in Springfield this year, and came away very impressed with his ability to swipe a big bag at a big moment in a game.
The ceiling for Tilson, as I said, is pretty limited. He's never grown into the occasional power he showed in high school, and while he's a plus defender in center field, I'm not sure he's quite to that Peter Bourjos/Juan Lagares/Franklin Gutierrez level, where you live with limited offensive upside because of the potential to steal runs the player gives you with his glove. Tilson is probably best served in a backup role, taking plate appearances in left and center, being deployed strategically late in games at points where his legs could possibly swing the tide of a contest. He may never grow into the player one might have hoped seeing him in high school, but it's very likely he'll end up a useful major leaguer in some capacity, which is pretty damned good all the same.
Player Comp: a lefty-swinging version of Shane Robinson doesn't sound too far off base, to me. Again, not a star, but that's not a bad player to not have to pay market value for.