College under his belt, Wilson ready for Draft
Stanford experience as important to outfielder as future in pro baseball
Three years ago, Austin Wilson was confronted with a decision many talented baseball players face every year as the First-Year Player Draft approaches: To go pro, or to go to college.
With size, skills, athletic ability and experience playing for a top prep program, Wilson certainly could have gone either way, and he could have been a high pick out of high school. But Wilson went the college route and chose the Stanford experience -- life with other students on The Farm, an education at one of the country's most prestigious learning institutions and an opportunity to perform for one of college baseball's storied programs.
Now, three years later, it's a decision that remains ... well, calling it a no-brainer would be a poor choice of words, wouldn't it? It's his mind that Wilson wanted to develop, along with his baseball skills.
Call it a yes-brainer, and now that Wilson is a junior, the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder is a likely first-round pick and one of the top outfielders available in the 2013 Draft, having honed his baseball skills and his life skills at Stanford.
Three years later, Wilson wouldn't have it any other way.
"Honestly, I felt like as a person, I couldn't skip college," Wilson said. "I wanted to kind of go on my own, go to school, have a social life -- everything that college offers. For the past three years, Stanford has done everything for me, and I don't regret my decision at all in regards to coming to school."
Wilson will find out what his next step will be at the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, to be held June 6-8. Teammate Mark Appel, a right-handed pitcher, is among the players who might be selected No. 1 overall, and Wilson is currently projected in the lower part of the first round after recovering from an injury that robbed him of much of his junior season, which began with preseason first-team All-America notices.
For Stanford coach Mark Marquess, a student-athlete like Wilson is sort of a prototype for the player a program like his would want to have -- someone who possesses top-level talent but who also wants to absorb the experience of university life.
"Austin is an extraordinary student-athlete, as displayed through his work ethic and commitment to his craft on and off the field," Marquess said. "He is a tremendous leader and role model for our team. Austin is as talented as they come, and the sky is the limit for someone with his skill set. We're proud to call Austin a Stanford man."
That Wilson would choose to pursue a college degree before taking on pro baseball shouldn't come as much of a surprise. His parents, Ina Coleman and Alan Wilson, both have MBAs from Harvard, and he attended one of the nation's top prep schools, Harvard-Westlake School in the Los Angeles area.
Wilson's mother attended Stanford as an undergraduate, but the decision to attend that or any other university -- or, alternately, to go into professional baseball -- was all Austin's when he was an 18-year-old with different paths to choose for his future.
"It was totally, completely his decision to go to college, and we supported his decision," Ina Coleman said. "If he had chosen to go pro at that time, we would have supported that as well.
"In retrospect, every decision you make has pros and cons to each, but I think it only gets better from here. He'll get drafted, he'll have his college degree, and hopefully he'll be able to have an enriching and engaging and successful professional baseball career. And when he's finished with that, he'll have his degree that will hopefully help him go on the second adventure of his life. I think it all works out."
That road for Wilson reaches a pivotal point in June, at the end of a junior season that didn't go exactly as planned. A stress reaction on the tip of his right elbow sidelined Wilson for more than a month to start the season, although he has gotten back on the horse since his return to action in early April.
Through Sunday, Wilson is batting .314 with five homers and 24 RBIs and 25 runs in 102 at-bats, or about half of what the rest of the Cardinal regulars have at this point in the season. But he's back playing and healthy, even if it took several weeks of rest while trying to keep his baseball eye and mind sharp.
"I definitely envisioned my junior year to be different," Wilson said. "But six weeks of not playing was an eye-opening experience, sitting on the bench and not being able to help the team. But I think it was beneficial from a leaning point of view, because I learned some things about myself and it kind of humbled me in a way.
"There are things in life that don't always go right, and you have to understand that. Whatever comes at you, you have to adapt to it. I feel like I've done that well, and now I'm just hoping to finish up the season strong."
It doesn't take someone with an advanced degree to figure out where Wilson gained that type of perspective and that type of attitude toward adversity.
Said Ina: "You know, you look at it in the big picture: You have a situation, you deal with it, you do what you can to get healed, and then you come back and you play."
With a couple of months of solid play after his return to the field, Wilson has done that. What scouts and organizations think of his progress and his potential for the future will be evident in June when the Draft takes place.
What Wilson already knows is that he remains happy with his decision to attend Stanford and experience all that goes with that decision. He's heading toward a degree in science, technology and society, and he has embraced the university lifestyle in his time at Stanford.
"I've met some amazing people here, and I've seen some amazing things," he said.
Soon, Wilson hopes to be meeting more people, including some new teammates in the Minor Leagues, and he'll be seeing what life on the road to the Majors is all about.
After all, that's really where Wilson always has been headed, even if he chose to experience college life before embarking on that journey.
"My main objective has been to play in the big leagues someday," Wilson said. "I wouldn't say attending college for three years was a detour of that plan or a setback. But I also know that development in pro ball is ideal if you're going to make it to that level.
"So on Draft day, I'll see what organization I go to, and I'm sure it'll be a wonderful one, and I think I'll be able to go out and learn a lot of things and let my talent and ability take care of the rest."
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.