Rays' Bobby Wilson bidding for job with hometown team

Bobby Wilson is a Seminole High and St. Petersburg College product.
Bobby Wilson is a Seminole High and St. Petersburg College product.
Published Mar. 2, 2015

PORT CHARLOTTE — Bobby Wilson always has tried to have reasonable expectations.

Starring roles at Seminole High and St. Petersburg College were enough to get him drafted and signed by the Angels. But he went off to pro ball with meager aspirations and is proud of a career that thus far includes three full seasons as a backup catcher in Anaheim and small parts of three others in the majors.

"I didn't know I would get this far, to be honest with you," Wilson said. "To be the next superstar wasn't the vision. It was to be a guy that tries to outwork everybody any way I can, try to out-think everybody, try to do all the little things better than just hitting homers, try to be in tune with all the small stuff that can elevate your game to the next level.

"That was the teaching growing up through the minor leagues, and when I got to the big leagues, it was, this is who you are. And the more I was able to understand who I am, I think it helped me."

Now Wilson faces another opportunity: to extend that career with his hometown Rays.

A 2013 season in which the Yankees — despite what Wilson said were promises otherwise — kept him at Triple A all year left him so frustrated, he considered giving up playing. A better, more relaxed environment with Arizona's Triple-A team last year rejuvenated Wilson's spirits and resurrected his love for the game, but it didn't lead to much, only a mid September promotion.

"After '13, I thought it was going to be over, that that was probably going to be the last of it," Wilson said. "Last year with Arizona, I kind of got that excitement of playing again. I felt like I could be a kid and play again. I didn't feel like I had to do this or I had to do that in a certain way to be accepted in that organization. … Whether it was the people there, or my kids starting to get older, it became fun again."

Fun is good. Being in the big leagues is better. So here he was at 31, having played only two games total in the majors over the past two seasons, when the Rays called with an offer he had been hoping for, to compete for their backup catcher's job.

"We were weighing some decisions, but to be able to play for your hometown team and having the opportunity that presented itself, it was tough to say no to this situation," Wilson said. "It was obviously very exciting when we finally made a decision that this looks like it's going to be the best case."

Though Wilson went into pro ball known more for his offense, he evolved into a defense-first catcher lauded for his catch-and-throw skills, handling of a pitching staff and understanding of the catcher-pitcher relationship. (And an acceptance that he's best as a situational hitter.)

Tom Kotchman, the longtime Angels and now Red Sox scout and minor-league coach who signed Wilson, credits his work ethic and aptitude: "Bobby has evolved into a guy who really knows how to catch."

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Pitchers who worked with Wilson in Anaheim, such as reliever Ernesto Frieri, can't say enough good things. "When I saw his name on the list here, I was like … 'It's going to be fun,' " Frieri said. "It gives you a little bit of extra confidence as a pitcher when you have a catcher like him."

Rays pitchers have raved about throwing to him, especially the low target he sets. Manager Kevin Cash has an appreciation, given their similar career tracks, to Wilson's perseverance.

Now it's just up to Wilson.

His primary competition to back up Rene Rivera is Curt Casali, who has only the experience of 30 big-league games after making his unexpected debut last July but the benefit of being on the 40-man roster while Wilson signed a minor-league deal. And there is always the possibility of a veteran being acquired at the end of spring training.

But Wilson has no complaints.

"From the time I signed here, everyone has been up front and honest with me that you'll have an opportunity to win a job," Wilson said. "And at this stage of my career, that's really all I can ask for."

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays