Could the season that Stevie Wilkerson had in 2019 have occurred on any other team besides the rebuilding Orioles? No way.
Wilkerson, an infielder by trade, spent nearly 750 innings in the O’s outfield this season. Much of that time (524 innings) was dedicated to center field, a position that Wilkerson himself said he never played in his life prior to this year. He also saw some time in both left (161 innings) and right fields (63 innings) throughout the season.
Not only did Wilkerson play the outfield, but he also may have made the best catch of the Orioles entire season when he robbed the Red Sox’s Jackie Bradley Jr. of a home run at the end of September.
Oh yeah, the Clemson product got on the mound too. The pitching-deprived Orioles needed more than a few innings from their position players throughout the year. Wilkerson tossed 5.1 innings over four appearances and also recorded the first save by a position player...EVER.
If all of this wasn’t good enough, we were also fortunate enough to learn of Wilkerson’s nickname. No, it isn’t something basic like Wilky or Stevie Two Gloves. Oh no, it is much, much better. In the Orioles clubhouse, Wilkerson is known as Dr. Poo Poo.
Apparently “poo poo” is a reference to Wilkerson’s pitch repertoire, which is, to be kind, lacking. But I’m not sure how he was elevated to a PhD. so quickly. The man only has a handful of relief appearances to his name. He is Mr. Poo Poo as far as I’m concerned.
Yes, Wilkerson did a lot of fun things throughout the year that made the Orioles much easier to watch. And he was an important piece of the team that filled several vacancies throughout the year. But was he actually any good?
The 27-year-old began the 2019 campaign with the Triple—A Norfolk Tides. In 16 games with Norfolk, Wilkerson hit .323/.354/.452 with a 106 wRC+. It was a pretty good showing, but not surprising given his track record. Wilkerson has always been a steady minor league hitter, typically hitting above league average regardless of the level. He had yet to show he could handle the stick in MLB, though.
Wilkerson was called up to the big leagues on April 22 and remained there for nearly the rest of the season, save for one brief demotion in early June. At the plate, he wound up with 361 plate appearances across 117 games and never really got the bat going too well, hitting .225/.286/.383 with 10 home runs, 18 doubles, 76 OPS+ and 74 wRC+ across all nine spots in the lineup.
The former 8th round pick’s best month came in May. He played in 26 games, smacked four home runs and put together a slash line of .264/.316/.451. But he also benefited from a season-high .345 batting average on balls in play.
Things do get a little more interesting when looking at the switch-hitter’s splits. He was far more effective against right-handed pitching. In 229 PA, Wilkerson slashed .264/.311/.472 against righties. But against southpaws (132 PA) he struggled to the tune of a .154/.242/.222 line. The Orioles may not have too many options in 2020, but it could be wise to pair Wilkerson with a platoon partner if they wish to get the most out of his bat.
Regardless of which side of the plate he stands, Wilkerson needs to cut down on the strikeouts. He K’ed 29.9 percent of the time in 2019. He doesn’t hit for nearly enough power to warrant such a high strikeout rate. Perhaps seeing few left-handed pitchers would help in that department as well.
It was a similarly glass half-full situation in the field for Wilkerson. The position he was thrust into most often (center field) was a struggle for him. In those 524 innings, he put together a -4.2 UZR and cost the Orioles five runs. But it wasn’t all due to a lack of range or unfamiliarity with the position. FanGraphs attributed -3.3 of that UZR to his arm. Things did not go well for him in right field either (-1.0 UZR, -1 DRS).
On the bright side, Wilkerson actually grades out rather well in left field. FanGraphs gave him a UZR/150 of 1.5. That’s just a bit above league average, which is pretty darn good for a guy who was learning on the job. Those numbers could improve given that Wilkerson now has a full season of experience and will surely work on his outfield abilities throughout Spring Training ahead of 2020.
There is reason to be intrigued by Wilkerson. A utilityman that can fill in admirable all around the diamond is an asset to any team. It allows them to limit minor league call-ups and makes manager decisions easier. But there are clear holes in Wilkerson’s game that the Orioles Brandon Hyde will need to maneuver around going forward.
Wilkerson’s glove work could see a marked improvement in 2020. That doesn’t mean he should be the team’s most oft-used center fielder for a second season in a row, but he could do the job in a pinch. What will be more interesting to see is how he improves in the corner spots. Additionally, we may see him on the infield more often going forward. Richie Martin is likely headed for Norfolk, which will open up a middle infield spot in Baltimore.
It was a lot of fun to watch Wilkerson play all over the field in 2019. He may be tasked with something similar in 2020, giving the Orioles their own version of Jose Oquendo.