Cody Wilson, a speedy outfielder, dove for a ball while playing in Florida, hurt his clavicle and didn’t see a lot of action for Palm Beach State College about four years ago.
So his summer in the Valley Baseball League in 2017 was pivotal with the Winchester Royals — and helped send him on the road to the majors with Washington.
“I just needed a lot of at-bats,” Wilson said in a phone interview Friday night from California. “I just wanted to get out there and play and see live pitching” in the VBL.
“The tools where there, the physical tools were there, the run tools were there, the power tools were there,” Lyndon Coleman, his manager with the Winchester Royals that season, told the News-Record. “He just needed to play baseball. We created an opportunity for him to get at-bats.”
Wilson took advantage of those opportunities and completed a quick rise to the Major Leagues on Wednesday, as he played in his first game with the Washington Nationals. He was used as a pinch-hitter in the third inning in the first of two games against the Atlanta Braves, and was retired on a flyball to center field against veteran pitcher Josh Tomlin.
“I wasn’t really nervous; I thought I would be,” Wilson said. “I got to 3-2 and put the ball in play. I have been working on my two-strike approach.”
Wilson, 24, was in Instructional League last fall in Florida then opened up the eyes of general manager Mike Rizzo in spring training this year as well.
“He was very diligent with his habits and trying to do everything he could to put himself in the best position in very challenging times,” Mark Scialabba, assistant general manager, player development, said from Florida. “He lives near the complex here in West Palm Beach. He is very gifted defensively. He is an aggressive baserunner.”
Until this year, Wilson had never played above the low Single-A level in the Washington system. Wilson hit just .215 in 77 games for the Hagerstown (Md.) Suns in 2019 but stole 22 bases in 27 tries and his season was cut short due to injury, according to Scialabba.
“He was one of the hardest workers you would ever run in to, especially in summer baseball where kids can get lazy,” said Coleman, now the coach at Pasco-Hernando, a top junior college program in Florida. “He was one of the first guys at the ballpark. He ate clean food and was always prepared to play.”
Wilson was born July 4, 1996 in West Palm Beach — the Florida spring training home of the Nationals. He played for Winchester in 2017 and then played the following year at Division I Florida Atlantic, where he hit .285 with 19 steals in 21 tries in 63 games. He also hit 14 homers with 41 RBIs in 249 at-bats.
He was drafted by the Nationals in the 13th round in 2018. Wilson missed out on the 2020 season as the pandemic canceled minor leagues across North America.
His contract was selected Tuesday by the Nationals after he had been at the alternate site in Fredericksburg. The Nationals had to call up several minor leaguers after a virus outbreak hit the team. Among the veterans not on the Opening Day roster was veteran outfielder Kyle Schwarber, which created a spot for Wilson.
The Nationals lost 1-0 in Los Angeles on Friday in the home opener for the Dodgers, the defending champions. Wilson was sent back to the alternate site in Fredericksburg before the Friday game and he said he will head back to Virginia this weekend.
Other Valley League products to play for Washington in recent years include second baseman Daniel Murphy (Luray) and first baseman/outfielder Clint Robinson (Harrisonburg). Wilson hit .336 with Winchester in 2017 with 21 steals in 24 tries and drove in 23 runs in just 37 games.
Bridgewater junior outfielder Jarret Biesecker, after going 4-for-5 Wednesday, is now hitting a team-best .413 with 11 runs for the Eagles. “He knows who he is,” Coach Ben Spotts said. “He fouls off a lot of pitches as a leadoff hitter.”
Sophomore Hunter Clever (.283) and Jeffrey Snider (.280) are tied for the team lead in RBIs with 10 while Snider leads the Eagles with seven steals. Sophomore right-hander William Flanagan has a 1.93 ERA in 14 innings with two wins.
The Eagles scored eight runs in the top of the 10th and won 10-2 at Washington and Lee on Wednesday night. “It was a good win for us,” Spotts said Thursday. “We had a losing streak there [of three games]. We are young offensively. Last night was a good game for us.”
Kevin Navedo (Harrisonburg) broke the tie with a two-run triple in the top of the 10th to give the Eagles the lead. Biesecker had an RBI hit in the 10th as well, as did Clever and Snider.
Biesecker hit .421 as a freshman and .413 as a sophomore for Bridgewater. BC is 6-6, 5-5 in the ODAC and is slated to host Roanoke on Saturday in an Old Dominion Athletic Conference doubleheader.
The Eagles then have a makeup game with Ferrum on Sunday and host Eastern Mennonite on Tuesday at 4 p.m. “I think everyone is pretty good,” Spotts said of the ODAC. Roanoke swept Shenandoah last weekend.
Senior outfielder Jaylon Lee of Eastern Mennonite is hitting .474 with four homers and 18 RBIs in just 38 at-bats with a slugging mark of .974. Jordan Jones, a junior outfielder, is batting .444 with a homer and seven RBIs. Senior infielder Brett Lindsay is batting .333 with a homer and 14 RBIs.
All three of them homered in an 11-8 loss at nationally-ranked Shenandoah (No. 18) on Wednesday. The Royals are 5-5, 5-5 and were scheduled to host Guilford Saturday but the two games were postponed due to COVID-19 protocols with the North Carolina school.
Shenandoah pitcher Cade Templeton (Harrisonburg), in his first six outings out of the bullpen this year, had an ERA of 3.38 with one save — against Bridgewater. The Hornets are 13-3, 10-2 and have a big doubleheader Saturday in Ashland against Randolph-Macon, also ranked nationally at No. 12 this week.
JMU To Dodgers
Roanoke native Nick Robertson, drafted out of James Madison by the Dodgers in 2019, remains in Arizona with minor league prospects after pitching in spring training games with the club. He had never pitched above the rookie level after the minors were called off in 2020.
“They do a good job of making sure you are ready before you even step out there,” Robertson told the News-Record on Thursday. “I felt pretty comfortable out there; they do a good job with that, too.”
Robertson hopes to join a minor league affiliate next month. “We start games for minor league spring training on Monday,” he said.