It wasn't long ago, just prior to the trade deadline, that Orioles right-hander Tyler Wilson was looked at as trade bait. He had come up to the Bigs earlier in the season to showcase himself for other teams. He was a Major League-ready arm that could help the O's nab an older, more experienced player to bolster their roster.
Fast forward to last night in Oakland. Wilson is still donning the black and orange, making a spot start in place of Opening Day starter Chris Tillman for the playoff-pushing Birds. 100 pitches later, Wilson had tossed 7.2 innings of two-run ball, striking out three and walking two en route to his second Major League win.
It was the type of performance that turns heads. Add to it the fact that Wilson now has six total appearances for the O's this year, with a trim ERA of 2.19, and now you really have something. The starting rotation, which was once a log jam, looks like it may clear itself up some by next spring. Bud Norris was recently jettisoned. Wei-Yin Chen may leave for a big contract elsewhere. And it always seems as if Miguel Gonzalez is rumored to be going to the bullpen. The 25-year-old Wilson is quickly put into position to potentially be a big contributor in 2016.
But does he have the skill-set to succeed long-term at the Major League level? It happens fairly routinely: a player performs at Triple-A, and perhaps even does well for a bit in the Bigs, but inevitably, the wheels fall off due to the lack of some sort of gene or DNA strand.
Let's discuss this in a positive manner. I will leave the comments open for opposing viewpoints.
Why Wilson can make it?
First, let's talk about his approach to pitching. To anyone who has watched Wilson pitch, it's clear that he lacks what we would call "overpowering stuff". His fastball sits 88-92, which from a non-knuckleball-throwing right-hander is fairly slow. However, it's not as if Wilson is just figuring this little tid-bit out.
He sticks to a rule that many high school coaches preach: pitch to contact. That's not the same as leaving the ball over the middle of the plate, but it also differs from nibbling too much too. What this approach has led to is Baseball America giving Wilson the title of "Best Control" in the Orioles organization following the 2012 season. And it is a good trait to have when given the fact that the Orioles have some of the best fielders in the game supporting each day's pitcher.
This year, he has bared the fruit that comes from such pitching. After seeing his walks per nine innings climb to a career worst 3.61 in 2013 with Frederick, Wilson has since limited his free passes to 1.77 per nine innings with Norfolk and 1.82 with Baltimore. You know who else had a career walk per nine of 1.8? Greg Maddux. That's all I'm saying. (just kidding, I don't think he is the next Maddux)
That brings us to the other reason Wilson can make it: he's smart. I'm not talking about book smart or what his SAT and ACT scores were coming out of high school. Instead, I mean that he learns from his experiences and it shows on the stat sheet.
During his six-game stint with Delmarva in 2012, Wilson struck out 8.16 batters per nine innings, but he also walked 3.09 per nine as well. This led to a chunky 5.06 ERA. A few months later with Frederick, he cut down on the walks, down to 1.54, and also chopped 1.5 runs off of his ERA.
It's been a semi-similar pattern over the years at many levels for Wilson. For him, high strikeout totals don't necessarily correlate to more wins or lower ERA's. But, every time he cuts down on the number of Ball Four's that he gives out, he sees a good bump to his stats.
Will Wilson make it?
What do I look like? A fortune teller? It will all depend on this off-season. Are the Orioles likely to sign or trade for a big name pitcher that would automatically slot into the rotation? Highly unlikely. So, Wilson will probably be fighting with a handful of other pitchers, including the likes of Mike Wright and maybe even T.J. McFarland and Brian Matusz (is that experiment over yet?) for one spot behind Chris Tillman, Ublado Jimenez, Kevin Gausman and (probably) Gonzalez.
Now, do I want him to make it? Heck yeah! His name is Tyler. That's just super cool by itself. Plus, have you seen his sideburns? Or have you noticed the fact that he wears stirrups? He has immediately become the best-dressed Oriole and it's not even close. We need the style points big time. And look at this website with his wife Chelsea! All kinds of lovable!
All levity aside, what Wilson has done thus far has been impressive. He has earned his keep down on the farm and worked through the minor leagues one level at a time after being a 10th round draft out of the University of Virginia back in 2011. He got a $20,000 signing bonus and went to work. I can get behind that.