Opening Day roster or not, Wilson has a chance to help Phillies in 2024

Opening Day roster or not, Wilson has a chance to help Phillies in 2024 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Weston Wilson found out 45 minutes before first pitch Wednesday that he wouldn't be the designated hitter, he'd instead be starting at shortstop in the Phillies' Grapefruit League game against the Braves.

Edmundo Sosa had fouled a ball off his foot and was scratched, and Trea Turner had made the long trip to Fort Myers to play in the previous day's game, so manager Rob Thomson went with Wilson, a 29-year-old with the most realistic chance of his career to make an Opening Day roster.

Wilson had a dynamic 2023 season at Triple A, hitting 31 home runs to break Rhys Hoskins' IronPigs record and stealing 32 bases. It earned him three separate short-term call-ups to the majors and he held his own, reaching in 11 of 22 plate appearances with a homer, four singles and six walks.

In those eight games, Wilson played first base, second base, third base and both outfield corners. With Lehigh Valley, he started 75 games at shortstop.

"We know he can play defense in any position really except behind the plate," Thomson said. "That's really valuable for us. But if he continues to show us good at-bats and good swings, which he has so far, I'm pretty happy with it. He looks good."

The Phillies have one, possibly two spots open on their bench. If Johan Rojas makes the team as the starting centerfielder, there will likely be just one spot for a slew of candidates led by Jake Cave, Cristian Pache and Wilson. There's also a chance that spot goes to someone not even in camp; a year ago, Pache was acquired from Oakland 24 hours before Opening Day.

"I'm just coming to the field every day to be a good teammate and provide value to this team, which I think I do being able to play all over the field," Wilson said. "Have consistent, quality at-bats in spring training and a lot of that other stuff is out of my control. It's tough. I've got to put that to the side, all the outside stuff. But I feel like I have a good shot to make this team and provide some value."

The Phillies signed Wilson to a minor-league deal in January 2023. He had become a free agent after spending seven seasons in the Brewers' system. He wasn't this kind of hitter for much of that time, though.

In the cage during the pandemic-shortened season of 2020, he altered his bat path and how he used his lower half. It led to success in his first taste of Triple A in 2021, when he hit .267 with a .902 OPS and 16 home runs in just 246 plate appearances. His season ended prematurely because of a blood clot near his right shoulder.

"I was on pace to do very similar things to what I did last year," he recalled. "And then after that surgery, having the blood clot removed, I think I put a lot of pressure on myself in 2022, just putting pressure on myself to get to the big leagues because I was right there. I saw a bit of a decline in my numbers. And then this last year, in '23, I come in here and the Phillies, the first thing they say to me is we don't care what you do, if you strike out four times in a row, just go be an athlete. I think it freed me up to get back to what I felt in 2021. About three weeks to a month into the season, I started feeling that again. I kinda stayed with that the whole year and it's been something I worked on this offseason, just stay where I was last year."

One of the things that helped Wilson last season was the quick connection he formed with veteran Phillies teammates, notably Nick Castellanos, who gave Wilson a place to stay during the season when he was called up. Every bit of financial help can matter for a player who's grinded through years in the minor leagues chasing his big-league dream.

"It's incredible. To come to a new place and feel at home right away takes a lot of pressure off you to perform," he said. "You just feel like you're a part of the team. I feel like they did a really good job of building a culture here that guys gravitate towards. It doesn't matter their status or how much guys are getting paid, you don't feel like anybody is over anybody. Everybody was very welcoming.

"That and then Casty letting me stay at his house when I got called up, I'm very grateful for that. It's a financial burden sometimes when you're bouncing all over the place and I haven't necessarily made much money in my career at all. And so I was very blessed and grateful for that."

Wilson is 3-for-10 with a double and a homer in the early days of camp. He has minor-league options remaining and that could factor into the decision because Cave and Pache do not. If the Phillies want to send Wilson to the minors, they could option him. If they want to send Cave or Pache to the minors, they have to pass them through waivers first.

But even if Wilson isn't at Citizens Bank Park on March 28 when the Phils open up against the Braves, he's a good bet to be up at some point in 2024. The Phillies used a combined 100 players in 2022 and 2023.

"Honestly, I've always felt like I could play in the big leagues," he said. "You've got to play with a chip on your shoulder. I'm a late-round guy. Not that the 17th round is the end of the world, but I had to overcome a lot of adversity in my career. I think some of that has built me for the moment."