Late last week, Camden Chat featured an overview of the Orioles prospects who competed in the Arizona Fall League in 2017. Among the heralded prospects competing in the league, such as Ryan Mountcastle, Tanner Scott, and Keegan Akin, were some relatively unknown guys.
Another of the Orioles prospects out in Arizona is utility infielder Steve Wilkerson. But despite not appearing on the Orioles’ top-30 prospect list, the little-known Wilkerson may have the best shot out of all of them to make the Opening Day roster in 2018.
The soon-to-be 26-year-old was drafted in 2014 out of Clemson University where he mostly played second base for the Tigers. A senior sign in the eighth round of the draft, Wilkerson signed for only $10,000 compared to his slotted amount over $150,000. Pretty typical stuff for a senior college baseball player.
After a short stint with Aberdeen in 2014 following the draft, Wilkerson put himself firmly on the map with a strong campaign in Delmarva in 2015. The switch-hitter posted a slash line of .287/.376/.371 while splitting time between shortstop and second base. He didn’t display the power he showed at Clemson where he slugged over .500 his senior year, but Wilkerson from the start has displayed a knack for making contact and getting on base.
Wilkerson put together his most successful season this past year when he hit .305/.375/.423 between 41 games for Frederick and 71 games for Bowie. He has since parlayed that with an Arizona Fall League in which he slashed .316/.379/.561 to fully get everyone’s attention within the Orioles’ front office.
The Orioles will be facing a decision in the next month whether to add Wilkerson to the team’s 40-man roster to avoid exposing him to the Rule 5 draft. But considering his success in Arizona, it would be hard to see the Orioles leaving Wilkerson off the 40-man roster when the Winter Meetings come around in December. The primary reason may lie in who the Orioles recently lost off of the 40-man roster, Ryan Flaherty.
With the Orioles likely to lose the versatile Flaherty to free agency, it would make sense to replace him with a guy like Wilkerson who has spent time in the minors at second base, third base, first base, shortstop, and the outfield. He represents the Swiss Army knife-esque bench player that Buck has shown to covet in his time with the O’s.
Besides inexperience, the main thing working against Wilkerson going forward could be his struggles at shortstop. While he’s made 35 starts at short in the minor leagues, it’s by far his weakest position. But, considering that Flaherty made it through 2017 without logging a single inning at shortstop, the Orioles may be content using a guy like Wilkerson as a last-resort option after Schoop and Machado.
Now I’m not trying to say that Wilkerson is a shoe-in for the 2018 Opening Day roster as the team’s utility man, but barring any offseason deals, it’s definitely likely that the Clemson Tiger makes at least an appearance for the big league team this upcoming season. Don’t let his omission from top prospect lists fool you, he’s definitely a player that the organization has their eye on.