Tilson played in 134 of a possible 140 games at Double-A Springfield this year, and he already has sat out as many contests in the AFL as he did during the Texas League season. He says watching from the bench has been an adjustment, but he has tried to stay sharp by bouncing ideas off and discussing different scenarios with fellow Saguaros taxi squad members Nate Orf (Brewers) and Dustin Fowler (Yankees). He also tries to take lessons from his previous game and incorporate them into his next.
"Today I was trying to lay off offspeed pitches until I got into two-strike counts," Tilson said. "I wanted to time up fastballs. That's how I simplified it for me, and it seemed to work out pretty well today."
Did it ever. Tilson led off the game with a line drive to center field that he hustled into a double before scoring to give Surprise a lead it never would relinquish. The left-handed hitter hung in tough against both southpaws he faced, singling to center to drive in a run off Tom Windle (Phillies) in the fourth and doubling to right off Michael Johnson (Dodgers) in the seventh.
A second-round pick out of New Trier High (Winnetka, Ill.) in 2011, Tilson signed with St. Louis for an above-slot $1.275 million. He missed his first full pro season when he hurt his non-throwing (right) shoulder during extended spring training but has recovered to become the Cardinals' top position prospect in the upper levels of the Minors.
Tilson had his most successful season yet in 2015, batting .295/.351/.388 and leading the Texas League with 159 hits, nine triples and 46 stolen bases despite being one of the circuit's youngest regulars at age 22. His best tool is his speed, which grades as a 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He makes consistent contact at the plate and covers a lot of ground in center field.
To complete his journey to St. Louis, Tilson will need to drive the ball more consistently. Home runs won't be a big part of his game, but he has added 20 pounds since signing and says he's trying to make his bat path less steep so he can lace balls to the gaps more often. He's also refining his basestealing after getting caught a TL-high 19 times.
The AFL gives Tilson the perfect laboratory in which to work on his game. He was ticketed to join the Peoria Javelinas last fall before breaking a bone in his right foot late in the Minor League season, and he says he was glad to get a second chance in 2015 -- even if he only gets to play twice a week.
"Some of the most important things out here don't happen in the games," Tilson said. "I'm trying to fine-tune some things in the cage, like flattening my bat path to get more air under the ball. I'm working on my baserunning, which is a big part of my game."
Tilson was just one of several offensive stars for the Saguaros, the AFL's highest-scoring team at 7.8 runs per game. Orf went 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles, four runs scored and two driven in. Gary Sanchez (Yankees) took the league home run lead with his fourth of the year, a bomb to center field off Robinson Leyer (White Sox) in the seventh inning.