Photo: Texas A&M

50 in 50: John Stilson

Draft : : Top Prospects
       
Published: Wednesday, April 27, 2011

John Stilson
RHP / Texas A&M

Bats/Throws:                R-R
Height/Weight:             6-4/205
Hometown:                   Texarkana, Texas
Previously Drafted:       Twins ’09 (19)
Birthdate:                     July 28, 1990

SCOUTING PROFILE: Stilson has had a solid season as a starter for Texas A&M, going 4-1, 1.12 with 19 walks and 80 strikeouts in 72 innings. That performance, though, actually pales in comparison to his dynamic sophomore season with the Aggies, when he set a school record and led the nation with a 0.80 ERA, and went 9-1 with 114 strikeouts in 79 innings. Those numbers, along with 10 saves in 33 appearances, were achieved as a closer and scouts initially pigeonholed Stilson into that role as a future professional. But that was before Stilson strung together a number of dominating starts in April, including a brilliant performance April 22 against Oklahoma State, when he fanned a career-high 12 batters and overwhelmed the Cowboys with a lethal four-pitch mix. Several scouts who attended that contest said it was the most-dominating starting performance they had witnessed from a college pitcher all spring. Stilson retired 23 of the first 24 hitters he faced and carried a shutout into the ninth inning of an eventual 11-2 win. He threw strikes all night long with a 92-94 mph fastball that he mixed efficiently with an 87-88 mph slider, 77-78 mph curve and 80-81 mph change. While Stilson has showcased excellent stuff as a starter, he has been downright filthy when used in short bursts. His fastball has hovered in the 93-98 mph range, and peaked at 99. A year ago, there was significant violence in Stilson’s delivery as he did not pitch with a free and easy motion, which raised questions about his durability if used as a starter over the long haul. His extremely competitive makeup also seemed ideally suited with a game on the line. But Stilson has made significant strides this spring in toning down his delivery and scouts are no longer convinced that he profiles as a reliever at the professional level. No matter what his eventual role, Stilson has made huge strides as a pitcher for a player who was better known as a shortstop in high school. In fact, Stilson was no better than the No. 3 arm in 2008 as a senior on the pitching staff at Texarkana’s Texas High, though it should be noted that the two pitchers ahead of him were lefthanders Slade Heathcott, a first-round pick of the New York Yankees in 2009, and Josh Turley, a top Baylor recruit. Stilson worked in only 14 innings in high school, while concentrating most of his efforts on playing shortstop. He subsequently had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder in the summer following his senior year and wasn’t cleared to play again until the fall, after he had quietly enrolled at Texarkana JC. Most of his efforts that fall and winter were spent on simply regaining his arm strength, and he worked in only four innings in fall practice. Stilson opened the 2009 season for Texarkana as the team’s starting shortstop, and all plans to get him work on the mound were geared around his playing in the field. He would typically play the first three games of a four-game weekend series at shortstop, and pitch the fourth. There was little indication then of things to come as Stilson’s fastball was mainly in the 88-90 mph range, touching 91. As his freshman season wore on, though, there was a significant spike in Stilson’s velocity, and he was soon sitting at 92-93, and topping at 96. He maintained that velocity deep into games and it soon became evident that Stilson was much more than a back-end of the rotation pitcher, and he was soon installed as the Texarkana ace. He blossomed in his new role, going 10-1, 2.15 with 21 walks and 78 strikeouts in 75 innings. The Minnesota Twins saw his significant upside as a pitching prospect and took a flier on him in the 19th round of the 2009 draft. Stilson, however, had grander plans in mind, and chose to attend Texas A&M, even as he knew that he wouldn’t be eligible for the 2010 draft. That decision, though, should pay off handsomely this year as Stilson has piqued the interest of numerous big-league clubs with his dominating stuff and could end up being drafted in the top half of the first round in June.

Projected Draft Position: First round / top 15-25 picks.

--ALLAN SIMPSON

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