Championship Duo Back Together with Flock
A pair of champions has been reunited on Long Island.
The Ducks have signed their first pitcher to the 2017 roster, bringing aboard reliever Tyler Wilson. His rights had been acquired about one week earlier from the Ottawa Champions of the Can-Am League for future considerations. Now, he has officially put pen to paper on a contract to solidify his place in the bullpen. In doing so, he also assured himself of a reunion with new Ducks pitching coach Billy Horn after the pair spent the past two seasons together in Ottawa.
“Billy’s been awesome to me and has given me all the opportunities in the world to show what I have,” said Wilson by telephone on Friday. “When no one would give me a chance, he believed in me. Even when things weren’t going so hot, he didn’t stray from believing in me.”
Wilson and Horn’s relationship has blossomed in their two seasons together with the Champions. Both joined the club for its inaugural season in 2015. Wilson was looking to get his career back on track after mixed results over four seasons in the Red Sox organization and struggling as a starter with two other Can-Am League clubs. Horn, meanwhile, was beginning his first coaching opportunity in professional baseball and looking to help his ballplayers reach the next level.
The two immediately clicked, and it proved to be a mutually beneficial tandem. Wilson was given several different roles in his first season with Ottawa, handling everything from mop-up duty in blowout games to a set-up role and even closing on occasion. After compiling a 5.50 earned run average in 30 starts over his first two seasons in the league, the right-hander was able to turn in a 3.15 ERA in 32 relief appearances during the 2015 campaign. He also struck out 53 batters and walked just 17, a 3.1/1 ratio, compared to 118 strikeouts and 65 walks in 2013 and 2014 combined a 1.8/1 ratio.
“Tyler is the ultimate competitor and has a perfect mentality for a reliever,” commented Horn. “He is extremely focused and always wants the ball. For a power arm, he throws a lot of strikes, with good run on the fastball and a hard slider.”
His 2016 season was even more impressive. Wilson lowered his ERA even further to a miniscule 2.08 and made 42 appearances during the year. He nailed down 14 saves as Ottawa’s closer and struck out 60 batters while walking 24 and helped the Champions clinch a spot in the playoffs. Wilson then made five appearances in the postseason without allowing a run and struck out seven in six and two-thirds innings. The end result: A Can-Am League championship.
What could Wilson attribute to yielding, in his words, the best two years of his career?
“I’ve just really busted my butt and watched a lot of film of myself,” he noted. “I think I just went out there and was an even greater competitor than I had been. I wanted to have a lot of fun, leave it all out on the field and know that if I gave 100% that day and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted, there was nothing more I could have done to change that.”
Thanks to his success and a strong working relationship with Horn, Wilson put himself in a position to seek further opportunities to enhance his career. While he was proud to be part of a championship roster in Ottawa, the Georgia native’s dream to one day reach the big leagues was still very much alive. As the offseason began, he reached out to his manager with the Champions, Hal Lanier, about options to take the next step.
“I asked Hal if there was any way I could get in the Atlantic League and move up in my career to better my chances,” recalled Wilson. “He was all for it. He wants the best for my career, and I just felt like the Atlantic League was the best place for me to further my career.”
Horn was able to use his relationship with Ducks President/GM Michael Pfaff to eventually become Long Island’s next pitching coach. Wilson’s bond with Horn helped get the barrel rolling to bring the pitcher to Bethpage Ballpark as well. Now, their relationship will be able to continue growing.
“Here I am two years later, he gets a promotion and I’m getting a promotion myself,” exclaimed Wilson. “I’ve been able to build a special relationship with him. Some people would say like he’s been a father figure to me.”
He went on to add, “It’s just awesome that I get to experience this with him. We’re both getting a big opportunity here, and I know we are both willing to give everything we’ve got to show everyone that we belong here.”
The move to the Ducks, and the Atlantic League, will provide a great challenge for Wilson. The 27-year-old has never faced a competition level like he will in the ALPB. His career in the Red Sox organization reached as high as Single-A in 2012, and he has spent the past four seasons in the Can-Am League. While some of his teammates are sure to be younger than him, Wilson will be joining a league and a roster filled with Major League veterans and guys who have reached the highest levels of minor league baseball. Rather than being intimidated, he plans to use that fact to his advantage.
“This will be my fifth year in independent baseball, and all that I’ve heard about the Atlantic League is how much better the players are,” noted Wilson. “I feel like this is the big leagues of the independent world. I’m sure I will be playing with guys that are older than me and have a lot more experience than I do, and I’m going to walk in eager and willing to work. I haven’t established myself yet, so I’ll be here learning from these guys that have been with the Ducks, in the big leagues and at Double-A or Triple-A. I’ll just be eating up all the information I possibly can to help me get to where I want to be.”
Horn believes that Wilson will be able to make the change in stride, stating “He will definitely fit in any clubhouse no matter what level he makes it to. He just wants to go out there, compete, pitch and just like anyone else, make it to the big leagues.”
Much like in 2015, Wilson will begin the year without a definitive role in the bullpen. He knows that Horn and Ducks manager Kevin Baez might utilize him as a late-inning reliever or as a long man option behind the starter if necessary. Considering he served as a starter throughout the first three seasons of his career and two more years with the Trois-Rivieres Aigles, the options are endless. Wilson tends to use that versatility to his advantage.
“Whatever opportunity they want to give me, I’m willing to be that guy,” he affirmed. “It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m not coming in here focused on one job. I’m just here to prove myself in whatever job that they may give me.”
In the end, Wilson is hoping to enjoy the sweet taste of victory in the season’s final game, just like he did last year with Ottawa. Every player wants to win a championship in their career, and that is his primary focus coming into 2017. Now that he had the chance to experience what life was like on top, with Horn by his side, Wilson’s desire to have that moment again has become even stronger.
“That would icing on the cake for me,” he stated, “especially with getting an opportunity to pitch in the Atlantic League. Going to the playoffs and the Championship Series again would honestly be a dream come true. There aren’t too many years in a row that you get to go to the playoffs, much less the championship. As a guy coming into his first year in the league, I would love to be a part of that.”
Wilson’s journey begins in April, and the man who got him here will be right by his side.
Posted on February 3, 2017, in Player Signings and tagged 2017, Atlantic League, Bethpage Ballpark, Billy Horn, Boston Red Sox, Can-Am League, Hal Lanier, Kevin Baez, Long Island Ducks, Ottawa Champions, Tyler Wilson. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.