Pittsburgh Pirates: All-Time Non-Top 100 Prospect Team

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Shortstop - Jack Wilson

Jack Wilson wasn’t originally a Pirates prospect. The shortstop was a ninth round pick by the division rival St. Louis Cardinals in 1998, and was acquired by the Pirates at the 2000 trade deadline in exchange for Jason Christiansen. He never did much to attract prospect attention throughout his minor league career, mostly playing as a light-hitting, defensive first middle infielder. However, he still carved out a 12-year MLB career, nine seasons of which were spent with the Pirates.

Wilson wasn’t much of a batter during his Pirates tenure. He hit a lowly .269/.311/.376 with a .300 wOBA, and 78 wRC+. The Bucs traded him to the Seattle Mariners in 2009 alongside Ian Snell for five players, and his bat only continued to regress. From the time he left the Pirates to his last major league game in 2012 with the Atlanta Braves, Wilson batted just .252/.265/.289 with a .247 wOBA, and 52 wRC+ in 632 plate appearances.

However, Wilson’s bat was never the main staple of his game. It was his defense at shortstop. Defensive runs saved became an official statistic in 2003. Since then, only a dozen players have reached the 100+ DRS milestone. You have some of the game’s best all-time defenders like Andrelton Simmons, Yadier Molina, Adrian Beltre, and Nolan Arenado among those dozen players, but at number nine, you have Jack Wilson.

Wilson had +116 DRS at shortstop throughout his career (plus another six at second base). His +21 defensive WAR is considered among the top 50 of all-time. That’s more than Mike Schmidt, Willie Mays, Carlton Fisk, and Arenado. Wilson is arguably the best defender of all-time to not win a Gold Glove in the Gold Glove era. He and Rey Sanchez are the only players to have at least +20 defensive WAR and never received a Gold Glove after playing their entire careers after the award became a thing.

A lot of that is because of a lack of name recognition, playing on a lot of bad Pirates teams and on an overall small market team, and before the boom of more advanced metrics. His best defensive season was in 2005 when he racked up +32 defensive runs saved and a league leading +4.1 dWAR. DRS still views it as the third best defensive season by a shortstop, and fifth best defensive season by any player since 2003. In an example of bigger market and name bias, Omar Vizquel took home the award with only +1 DRS and +0.8 dWAR. Ironically, Wilson took home a silver slugger the previous season after batting .308/.355/.459 with a 103 wRC+.

On a rate basis, there are a lot of similarities to both Jack Wilson and Bill Mazeroski. Sure, Mazeroski played a lot longer than Wilson did, but in terms of hitting and fielding (on a rate basis), there’s a real case to be made that Wilson ended up as a more valuable player, on a rate basis.