Last Tuesday, Orioles infield prospect Steve Wilkerson finally got the promotion he had been waiting for since being drafted out of Clemson University in the 2014 draft. Called up to replace Pedro Alvarez, it looked like Orioles fans were finally going to see the roster overhaul that we’ve been expecting.
Not so fast. Four days and six plate appearances later, Wilkerson was back in AAA and the Orioles’ box score featured appearances by Danny Valencia, Jace Peterson, Craig Gentry, and Colby Rasmus.
I’ve been on the Steve Wilkerson train for a while now. I first wrote about his chances to make this year’s club as a utility player last November. At the time, Wilkerson was coming off of an Arizona Fall League in which Wilkerson slashed .317/.396/.512 and looked to be a suitable replacement for Ryan Flaherty.
Wilkerson’s 50-game suspension to start the year threw a wrench into that plan, but I’m still all in on the infield prospect. For full disclosure, a lot of my excitement may also stem from the fact that I’m also a graduate of Clemson.
During Wilkerson’s brief call-up, the rookie logged less than two full games worth of innings at third base, but he still found some opportunities to show off his glove. On Thursday against the Nationals, he introduced himself to Orioles fans with a defensive play at third base that we haven’t seen since the organization let Machado move to shortstop.
The following night, he made perhaps an even more difficult play on a slow roller. The play saved the game for the Orioles in the 14th inning before they eventually won it on a Machado home run.
Lets face it, we haven’t seen those types of plays from third base this season no matter who the Orioles have put out there. For Pete’s sake, with a grand total of eight games played this season at the hot corner, Pedro Alvarez has already played third base for eight games too many. Valencia has logged over 300 innings there, but he grades out negatively as well and is best served as a designated hitter.
Unfortunately for Wilkerson, the Orioles don’t seem ready to give up on the optionless Jace Peterson just yet, despite his career slash line of .231/.319/.332 over parts of five MLB seasons. As long as Machado is still on the Orioles, it looks like Wilkerson may have to patiently wait for his next big league opportunity.
Assuming the Orioles front office couldn’t possibly outdo themselves by failing to trade Machado at the deadline, Wilkerson should be back in the next month or so. After a prospective Manny deal, no pun intended, Beckham can slide back to his natural position at shortstop and third base will be wide open. Hopefully then, Wilkerson will get his chance to cement himself as a major league ballplayer.
In the meantime, Wilkerson is slashing .281/.342/.484 this season for Norfolk. He’s primarily done it playing second base, but he’s also seen time at third base, shortstop and both corner outfield spots. This follows his 2017 season in which he hit .305/.375/.423 between Frederick and Bowie and later dominated the Arizona Fall League. There are always things to work on, but there is not much more he has to prove at the minor league level to be worthy of another call-up. Wilkerson simply needs a true opportunity.
There’s no guarantee that Wilkerson doesn’t come back to the majors, proceed to bat .150 and struggle to stick on the 25-man roster. To be brutally honest, that situation is realistically much more likely than one in which he becomes a valuable player. But the Orioles will never know until they give him another shot, and this is the season they can afford to give those shots.
Getting rid of Alvarez was a good start, but guys like Craig Gentry, Jace Peterson, and Colby Rasmus are currently doing nothing more than taking up space for players that could potentially factor into the Orioles’ future. Hopefully the Orioles front office also figures this out at some point and we can start seeing players like DJ Stewart and Cedric Mullins in addition to Steve Wilkerson.
And if the front office never figures that out, Wilkerson will at least always have this moment less than ten miles from his high school.