Stevie Wilkerson wants to show he's essential for Orioles in 2020 - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Spring Training

Stevie Wilkerson wants to show he’s essential for Orioles in 2020

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

In these troubled times, we know who essential workers are. Doctors, nurses and other key hospital personnel. Police officers and firefighters. They’re also workers in food stores, pharmacies, gas stations, auto repair shops and hardware stores.

Last season, the Orioles had a clear most valuable player, Trey Mancini. They also had some strong performers — Hanser Alberto, John Means and Jonathan Villar.

And, they had their own essential worker, Stevie Wilkerson.

In normal times, hospital workers, police officers and firefighters are considered essential, but people who work in food stores aren’t.

These are anything but normal times for our country, and last year wasn’t a normal season for the Orioles.

Had the Orioles not been in the first full season of a rebuild in 2019, Wilkerson would not have been so essential, but he was.

Cedric Mullins had an awful few weeks of the season, and the Orioles sent him to Triple-A Norfolk, leaving center field vacant. In stepped Wilkerson, who had been removed from the 40-man roster shortly before the season began, replacing Mullins on the 25-man.

Wilkerson, who was considered a utility infielder before April 2019, suddenly was an outfielder.

Because the Orioles had few options other than Joey Rickard, the switch-hitting Wilkerson got a shot in center field.

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The Orioles hoped that Mullins would succeed in center field, but he couldn’t hit major league pitching. Austin Hays, who had shown well in spring training, was sent down and had a second consecutive season marred by injuries.

So, an opportunity existed for Wilkerson, whose outgoing and upbeat personality makes him popular in the clubhouse.

Wilkerson ended up starting 58 games in center, more than anyone else. He played 15 games in left and seven in right. He also started six games at second base.

In 2018, Wilkerson started eight games at second and four at third and played two innings at shortstop.

Last season, the Orioles needed 13 pitchers for much of the season, leaving only 12 position players. One of the three extras was always a backup catcher, and versatility was key.

Because Wilkerson made himself into an outfielder, he made himself essential.

Alberto, Villar, Richie Martin and Rio Ruiz never suffered a serious injury, although Ruiz went to the minors briefly in late July and early August and was replaced on the roster by Jace Peterson, another versatile player.

Wilkerson ended up hitting .225 with a .286 on-base percentage and a .669 OPS.

His true value to the Orioles was exposed at a time when few fans were watching. Shortly after 4 A.M. Eastern time on July 26, Wilkerson moved from center field to the mound to pitch the 16th inning of a game in Anaheim, California against the Los Angeles Angels.

Wilkerson retired the Angels in order to record a save, the first ever by a position player.

In two earlier stints, manager Brandon Hyde called on Wilkerson to eat up final innings in lopsided losses, but this was different. Throwing ultra-slow pitches, Wilkerson got the save and his 15 minutes of fame.

He concluded the season making a wondrous catch while playing right field at Fenway Park. But on January 31, the Orioles again took Wilkerson off the roster when they claimed right-handed pitcher Travis Lakins on waivers from the Chicago Cubs.

Since Wilkerson had been outrighted the year before, he could have declared for free agency. Instead, he chose to stay with the Orioles and join a crowded fray for a utility spot or two.

“There’s a lot of guys in camp that have versatility, that have multi-faceted games,” Wilkerson said on March 12, shortly before spring training was ended.

“Since the beginning of camp, our staff has been preaching that there’s a lot of opportunity here, to fight till the end of camp. They have a lot of options and there’s a little bit of time left here and a lot of decisions to be made.”

Currently, the Orioles have Andrew Velazquez, who was acquired on  waivers from Cleveland on the 40-man roster, and a host of non-roster contenders — Dilson Herrera,  Jose Rondon,  Richard Urena and Pat Valaika, who are primarily infielders.

Wilkerson could fit in the infield mix or could jockey with another non-roster player, Mason Williams, for an outfield spot.

“I definitely have a good understanding of the dynamic of this team,” Wilkerson said. “I’ve been in the organization for quite a while and, thankfully, I got to get some good experience up at the highest level last year, so I don’t know if those are things that set me apart, at least some things that I have on my side.”

In 11 games this spring, Wilkerson was hitting .250 (6-for-24) with two doubles and a home run.

“I think it comes down to performance,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a performance-based industry and whoever gets the job down is going to be the person that gets the nod.”

When the Orioles resume, we’ll see if Wilkerson is regarded as essential for 2020.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. CalsPals

    March 31, 2020 at 7:55 am

    Stevie is a good guy, but not essential, we cannot give up roster spots unless they matter in our future, although, I’m not sure why that looks like all things considered right now, go O’s…

    • Stacks

      March 31, 2020 at 8:00 am

      Comparing Wilkerson to actual essential workers in these troubled times? Not your finest work

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 31, 2020 at 8:06 am

      Stacks, as someone who’s married to one of those essential workers, I was trying for some levity in this dire situation, but I certainly appreciate your point.

  2. BancellsNoseHairs

    March 31, 2020 at 9:16 am

    I agree with Stacks. Comes across as tone deaf. I’m sure Stevie wouldn’t enjoy the comparisons. Thousands and thousands are dying. And you being married to an essential worker should be more sensitive to this. Better luck tomorrow.

  3. NormOs

    March 31, 2020 at 11:42 am

    Rich, I told you, you’ve got a tough job. Good Luck and STAY SAFE and that goes for all your commentors as well.

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 31, 2020 at 11:55 am

      Norm, those truly essential personnel have the tough jobs.

  4. Bancells Moustache

    March 31, 2020 at 1:19 pm

    It would be nice if Wilkerson could earn a place on this roster. A lunchpail guy who does whatever the team asks of him, who can root against that?

    Also, seriously people, it’s a baseball page. About baseball. And written by the guy who runs the page, who thus can write whatever the hell he wants. Save your pious, pearl clutching for somewhere else.

  5. Boog Robinson Robinson

    March 31, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    Lighten up dudes. Levity is essential. Go get’em Rich.

  6. Boog Robinson Robinson

    March 31, 2020 at 3:52 pm

    BTW .. I almost forgot … but ….

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY Baltimorebaseball.com!!

    Day one … March 31st … I forget the year now .. I’m thinking 2013 or 2014 ?? Someone please remind me.

    Dan Connelly & Steve Cockey brought this wonderful, awesome, O’s-O-licous web site online, and my daily routine would never be the same again.

    A few of the names have changed over the years, but the fun marches on. Rich Dubroff gives us what is usually an informed and wonderful piece, and then the usual’s chime in. Spanning the globe from TexBirdfan to AlaskaOsFan, from the clever wit of BanMo to the dry cynicism of CalsPals, I look forward to reading each and every one of y’all every day. Relative newcomers NormO, MLBBirdFan, EasternShoJo, and a couple of guys from Cincy & “the Loo” all ad to the mix this year. I apologize to all of you I’m missing. Heck, I’ll even take a little grief from all of our NumberOneFan and resident know-it-all now and then if I have too!
    .
    But STACEY … Where in the wide-wide world of sports has Machado’s number 1 fan … Stacey gone? Hopefully she’s not over at the Athletic wasting her money in some fake bar!! Come back to the Diner Stacey .. you’re missed!
    .
    So many thanks to Rich, Steve, Paul (for trying so hard to help me appreciate, let alone, understand analytics) and Dean .,.. let’s not forget the wicked good Minor league reports…and ALL the rest of the crew. Thank you all for being here every morning at 7:00 AM sharp come rain or come pandemics…..

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY BALTIMOREBASEBALL.COM !!

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 31, 2020 at 4:12 pm

      It was actually 2016.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        March 31, 2020 at 5:38 pm

        Wasn’t Connolly around for 3 years, and now this would be your 3rd Rich?

        • Rich Dubroff

          March 31, 2020 at 5:47 pm

          Dan and Steve began the site in 2016, and I took over for him when he left for The Athletic in July 2018.

    • CalsPals

      March 31, 2020 at 6:42 pm

      I resemble that remark Boog, go O’s…

    • Steve Cockey

      March 31, 2020 at 7:49 pm

      You have a good memory, Boog! 2016 was our first season, and March 31, 2016 was our first day. I can’t thank you and our regular readers enough for following along the last 4 years. We’re hoping to stick around for many years to come.

  7. TxBirdFan

    March 31, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    Thanks for the shout out Boog! This site is terrific for the sheltered and shut ins – regardless of age it’s very appreciated. All contributors are appreciated as well.

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