PAWTUCKET --- Alex Wilson knows all about the rags-to-riches tale of Kurt Warner, the former Super Bowl-winning St. Louis Rams quarterback and NFL MVP, who just a few years prior to his breakout â€™99 season, had worked part-time as a stockboy at a supermarket during his climb to stardom.
Thatâ€™s because from October to December, the Boston Red Sox prospect had spent his weekday mornings making a few extra bucks by stocking shelves at a Loweâ€™s home improvement store near his Hurricane, W.V. residence.
â€śI worked from 5 a.m. to noon or 1 every day,â€ť Wilson said. â€śYou got to pay the bills, especially (owning) a house, and my minor-league salary just didnâ€™t cut it the whole time. I finally went ahead and hung that up around Christmas time, just so I could concentrate and focus on this season.â€ť
The Red Soxâ€™s Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season, Wilson will be heading to spring training with the parent club next month as an invitee and hoping to follow the same stockboy-to-big leaguer script as Warner by vying for one of the few spots on the teamâ€™s staff.
And even though all signs point to Wilson starting the year in the Pawtucket Red Soxâ€™s rotation, the former Texas A&M standout and 2009 second-round draft pick of the Red Sox hopes to make the most out of his opportunity and give a strong impression.
â€śI look forward to the challenge,â€ť Wilson said during Friday afternoonâ€™s Hot Stove Media Day inside the PawSoxâ€™s clubhouse at McCoy Stadium. â€śWe brought in a lot of free agents this year and we have a great mix, and no one really knows what could happen, so Iâ€™m looking forward to the opportunity.â€ť
Wilson is coming off a tremendous 2011 season that saw him combine to go 10-4 with a 3.11 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 25 starts (133 innings) between Double-A Portland and the PawSox.
Wilsonâ€™s last four starts were with the PawSox, and he pitched well down the stretch, defeating Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 2-0, for his only Triple-A decision and helping the PawSox win the I.L. North championship.
In Game 3 of the opening round of the I.L. playoffs, he also delivered another excellent start against Lehigh Valley, but despite seven solid innings, he ended up on the losing end of a 3-1 decision.
â€śWhen I made the jump up here last year, I knew I was going to hit it in full stride and basically not give into anything, and things worked out real well for me,â€ť added Wilson. I pitched great all year, and hopefully, Iâ€™ll get to do it all again this year.â€ť
While Wilson was pleased with his Triple-A results, he also gave credit to the influence the older pitchers on the PawSox had on him, such as fellow starter Brandon Duckworth, a former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher who was also on hand for Media Day and helped make Wilsonâ€™s transition easy.
â€śJust being around older guys and seeing how they go about their business, you kind of catch on to the little things about how they donâ€™t worry about anything else other than what they need to do,â€ť said Wilson. â€śIt opens your eyes and lets you see that you are doing the right things.â€ť
Wilson seemed to do all the right things last season after experiencing the first hiccup of his pro career in 2010 with the Sea Dogs.
After a successful 2009 season with the short-season Single-A Lowell and a solid first two months to the â€™10 campaign with high Single-A Salem, Wilson was promoted to the Sea Dogs in early June, but in 16 starts, he was 4-5 with a 6.66 ERA.
But Wilson returned to Portland last year with a different mindset and results, and he ended up earning a spot on the Eastern League midseason all-star team by going 9-4 with 99 strikeouts and a 3.05 ERA in 21 starts.
â€śMy first time in Double A, I went in not knowing what to expect,â€ť confessed Wilson. â€śbut going into my second season there, I knew what to expect and I wasnâ€™t going to let (what happened the previous year) happen again.â€ť
Despite his exceptional 2011 season, Wilson was not ranked in the top 10 of the Red Soxâ€™s best prospects by Baseball America, but the publication did tab Wilson as having the fastball and slider among all Red Sox minor leaguers.
But while his fastball, which hovers in the mid-90s range, and his swing-and-miss slider have been two keys to his success, Wilson wants to also make his changeup a dominant third pitch.
â€śThe changeupâ€™s still a work in progress,â€ť he admitted. â€śIt came a long way last year and I had a great season with it. I think thatâ€™s a very effective pitch, and itâ€™s something I got comfortable with last year, but itâ€™s not my bread-and-butter fastball or slider, so it can always be worked on.â€ť
While working on his changeup will be one of his concerns in spring training, so will be his pursuit for consistency.
â€śFor me, itâ€™s just being consistent,â€ť said Wilson, â€śgetting into that routine and being able to do the same thing day in and day out and really getting after it. For me, itâ€™s just about being me. When I try to worry about other things than what I need to do, thatâ€™s when I get in trouble.â€ť
Wilson said that he expects to be used out of the bullpen during the early part of spring training, and thatâ€™s fine with him. In addition to the two vacant spots in Bostonâ€™s rotation, Wilson knows that there are openings in the bullpen that are there for the taking.
â€śHopefully, Iâ€™ll get an opportunity to be one of those guys that fills in a spot, but if not, the opportunity could come at any point, as we all know, and I just have to keep working towards that,â€ť offered Wilson. â€śI feel like I have just as good a shot as anyone else down there. Thatâ€™s the reason why they invited me to big-league camp, so Iâ€™m going to try to take full advantage of it.â€ť