While many fans weren’t overly thrilled with the Charlie Tilson trade arguing that the value received- that of Zach Duke- was not enough to trade away the fastest member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, perhaps the trade had hidden value unforeseen by anyone involved.
In the trade that landed the St. Louis Cardinals left-handed reliever Zach Duke, the Cardinals sent prospect Charlie Tilson to the White Sox. A few days later, Tilson’s season comes to an end with hamstring surgery. While this could not have been known, the Cardinals certainly benefited from this trade in more ways than one.
Before passing judgment, let us look at Tilson’s career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Tilson was drafted by the Cardinals in the second round of the 2011 draft. In 2011 he secured a slash line of .333/.400/.407 in eight games.
In 2013, Tilson was assigned to Peoria (and spent some time in Palm Beach) where he batted .302/.352/.388 in 109 games. In Peoria/Palm Beach, Tilson appeared defensively at center field (80 games), left field (17 games), and right field (12 games). His fielding percentages were respectively .988, .900, and .935.
2014 saw Tilson start in the St. Louis Cardinals high-A affiliate Palm Beach and then receiving a promotion to AA. In Palm Beach, Tilson batted .308/.357/.414 in 89 games before his AA promotion. In Springfield, Tilson batted .237/.269/.324 in 31 games. He played center and left in 2014 for fielding percentages of .979 and 1.000 (12 games) respectively.
2015 saw Tilson safely entrenched at AA Springfield for the St. Louis Cardinals. Here he batted .295/.351/.388 in 134 games. He played center field exclusively in 2015 in 128 games for a fielding percentage of .979.
This future center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals found himself promoted to AAA Memphis in 2016 where he played center field (65 games), left field (35 games), and multiple outfield spots (93 games) in games. His respective fielding percentages were .983, .925, and .969. In 2016, Tilson batted .282/.345/.407 for Memphis.
Of all of these stats, Tilson was best recognized as the fastest set of legs in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. In his time with the Cardinals, Tilson is noted has having stolen 93 bases while being caught stealing only 38 times in these 131 attempts. This was where his value was found.
Having noted this value, we must too admit that Tilson had- at least at the time of his trade- smashed against the ceiling of the St. Louis Cardinals. In other words, Tilson had likely been promoted to his highest level within this organization based on his hitting and fielding record.
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Add to this the appearance of Harrison Bader who had immediately eclipsed Tilson on the depth chart upon his appearance in Memphis in 2016. For comparison, Bader’s hitting line in 2016 is currently sitting at .271/.354/.388 and his center field fielding percentage is currently .958. In other words, Bader (in only 26 games in Memphis) essentially replaced Tilson even before he was traded.
It is because of this that the St. Louis Cardinals used Tilson to land reliever Duke. To his credit, and to further illustrate the fact that Tilson had climbed as high as possible with the Cardinals, Tilson was immediately promoted such that he made his MLB debut for the Chicago White Sox– a team near his home town of Winnetka, IL.
In his one game for the White Sox, Tilson went 1-for-2 with a single awarding him a batting line of .500/.500/.500 for his major league career to-date. This is stated with tongue-in-cheek simply because following this first game, the White Sox announced that Tilson was going to the 15-day DL due to a hamstring strain. Tilson had turned his ankle running down a hit in his major league debut.
Later the same day as the 15-day-DL-announcement, this was released:
What a terribly unfortunate turn of events for a rising prospect. That said, the St. Louis Cardinals, while not able to predict such a turn of events, certainly benefited even more from this trade than the simple acquisition of Duke.
It isn’t fair to assume that Tilson would have encountered the same outcome in Memphis or St. Louis, but in this trade the Cardinals received Duke while the White Sox received-and-then-lost Tilson. One team received and kept while one team received and lost.
I, for one, was able to watch Tilson in person and I thought much of him. I certainly wanted him to hit with greater ability but I felt that he might have been a real upside player for the St. Louis Cardinals. That said, I too have watched Bader and believe him to have the greater upside in comparison.
I hate to see any player (other than Cardinal killers) go on the DL, especially during his debut but am certainly glad that the St. Louis Cardinals have received a player who- for the current time- is not ending his season immediately following the trade. Let us all keep our fingers crossed this statement remains true and keep Charlie Tilson in our prayers for a quick recovery.