Ethan Wilson has progressed throughout his first two years at South Alabama. He has gone from receiving little MLB draft attention out of the Alabama high school ranks to potential being the second South Alabama outfielder selected in the first round of the MLB draft in the last four years.
In 2018, the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted South Alabama center fielder Travis Swaggerty with the 10th overall pick. Wilson joined the South Alabama program in 2019. He only watched Swaggerty play twice but immediately hoped to follow a similar path as Swaggerty when he joined the program.
“He was a guy that I knew about when I came to South Alabama, and I wanted to live up to his hype,” Wilson said. “It was cool to come in after him and to have chase after someone who was drafted high like he was.”
Wilson’s goal of following Swaggerty as a South Alabama player to earn a professional opportunity might become a reality in July. Pro scouts project Wilson as a potential first-round pick in the 2021 draft.
Wilson has made notable strides throughout his nearly 2½ years at South Alabama to position himself as a draft prospect.
Out of high school, he had a “few” in-home visits with scouts in 2018, he said. Regardless of the interest, Wilson didn’t feel like he was ready to start a pro career. Now nearly three years later, Wilson is embracing the draft attention while also focusing on his team’s on-the-field performance.
“It is definitely an honor to be a draft prospect, but at the same time, I try not to think about it too much,” Wilson said. “I try not to get overwhelmed by it because it can mess with you, and it can mess with you mentally. I know they are there and watching me, but at the same time, I know that I have a job to do.”
Wilson excelled immediately at South Alabama as a freshman in 2019. He hit an impressive .345 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs in 220 at-bats in 56 games. He also drew 36 walks compared to tallying 45 strikeouts.
He credits his success throughout his freshman season to his quick start, as it gave him confidence immediately, which stuck with him throughout the season. Wilson’s expectations were high as a sophomore last year, after he earned the 2019 Collegiate Baseball Co-Freshman of the Year award.
In a limited sample size, Wilson hit .282 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 71 at-bats in 18 games before the COVID-19 pandemic ended the season prematurely. He struck out 20 times and drew just four walks. Wilson focused too much on hitting home runs last year, which caused him to struggle at times throughout the shortened spring season, he said.
Scouts rank his offensive tools, especially his power, as his best traits. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound left-handed hitting outfielder generates loft in his swing and consistently displays above-average power. He also has a strong understanding of the strike zone and typically remains patient at the plate.
“I would say my bat is my biggest strength,” Wilson said. “I have a lot of confidence at the plate. I do believe that I am one of the best hitters in college baseball, and I think that is for sure one of my greatest features on the baseball field.”
Wilson has played left field in his first two years at South Alabama and likely profiles at that position long-term. He dedicated time in the offseason to refining his defensive skills in hopes of showing a better ability in the outfield this spring.
He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he moves well and has enough athleticism to handle an outfield corner. He also takes quality routes to the ball and has a respectable arm.
He throws from a three-quarters arm slot. This offseason, he has improved his average arm strength by doing band work, exercises, and throwing weight balls to strengthen his rotator cuff, Wilson said.
“I definitely need to grow as far as my arm strength goes,” Wilson said. “I think that is one of my weaknesses right now is my arm. I have been doing some stuff this fall to strengthen it. I will continue to do whatever I can to increase my arm and increase the velocity. That is what I will be working on the most moving forward.”
Besides improving on his craft, Wilson also wants to guide South Alabama to a NCAA tournament berth. South Alabama hasn’t qualified for an NCAA Regional since 2017. The Jaguars have made the NCAA tournament 26 times in their history but have never advanced out of the NCAA Regional. Wilson hopes to change that, though.
“Everyone is trying to go to the College World Series, but I think a short-term goal for us is to just compete in every game we play in,” Wilson said. “With our roster this year, we have a chance to be in or win every game we play. We need to have that mindset going into the season.”
Read more in-depth stories on top 2021 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for six years. He’s interviewed 253 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today, MLB.com and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.