When the St. Louis Cardinals drafted Charlie Tilson in the second round in 2011, they knew it might take some time for him to develop.
Tilson was, after all, not only a high school player, but one who played in a less-than-ideal weather environment in Illinois. Still, the Cardinals saw enough in him to give him an above-slot bonus to sign, knowing he'd almost certainly need time in extended spring camp before making his 2012 debut.
So far, things have gone well for the outfielder, ranked No. 13 on the Cardinals' Top 20 Prospects list. Not only has it been a good time for Tilson to get acclimated to the rigors of professional life, but he's really honed in on refining his offensive game.
"He's looking good; he's had a really good [spring camp]," Cardinals farm director John Vuch said. "Offensively, he's worked on using the whole field. He's taking good at-bats. He controls the strike zone really well. He's getting on base. He knows the kind of hitter he needs to be. He's taking that top-of-the-order-type approach to the plate."
Tilson brought with him a strong defensive skill set, and Vuch said he's as good as advertised, allowing him to work on the nuances of the outfield, rather than having to start anything from scratch.
Heading into the spring, the idea was that Tilson would get his work in during this time and eventually head to a short-season club, perhaps Johnson City in the Appalachian League, or maybe a gentle bump up to Batavia and the New York-Penn League. That's still likely to be the case, but Tilson has impressed enough to keep the Cardinals from etching anything in stone this early in the process.
"Coming into the year, we thought he'd go to a short-season club, but we're still open to have our minds changed," Vuch said. "He's made very good progress this spring. Whether that translates into him going someplace different, that remains to be seen. You don't want to decide in April or May where a guy's going to go in June. He's had a very good camp so far. If that continues, that could allow us to revise what we thought coming into the spring."
Tilson's progress hasn't been the only good thing to watch in Cardinals' camp recently. Mitch Harris has been wearing a uniform for the past several years, but not a St. Louis one very often. The Navy product finally got to pitch in a game -- albeit an extended training camp one -- with one on recently.
The Cardinals drafted Harris out of Navy back in 2008, knowing that his military commitment would come first. Now 26, there was hope he would be able to join the organization on a full-time basis sooner. He appealed for an early discharge, but it was rejected. So Harris will head back to the Navy later this month, able to join the Cardinals again in late August or early September.
"It was nice to see him get out there for the first time," Vuch said. "He'd gone a couple of years without pitching. He joined us in late March. Where he's come in the last month, he's made real progress. It's encouraging."
The good news is that even though Harris must fulfill the rest of his naval commitment soon, he'll be able to keep up with what he's learned this spring. And in a year, he'll get to give pitching his full attention.
"Any future assignment he has will be land-based, so he can be on a throwing program," Vuch said. "The last couple of years, he's been on a ship, where there wasn't really room to throw."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.