Wilhelmsen and the Future
While few were ever predicting that Tom Wilhelmsen would take his great story to the major leagues out of spring training, the fact remains that him making the club as a reliever has been a possibility in the back of everyone’s mind. His Arizona Fall League stint only solidified the opinion that he has the stuff to be able to work out of the ‘pen and soon if the organization felt like fasttracking him. Still, with the appealing starting pitching options beyond Pineda including generous estimations of Robles’ abilities and ambitious timetables for Paxton, some have come to me asking if Wilhelmsen could start, and if so, would his addition to the Mariners staff represent a setback.
Wilhelmsen is an odd duck in many respects. If you run down the list of reasons why guys are converted to relief, it’s usually stalled development (age can be a factor here), lack of command, lack of tertiary offerings, and durability concerns. Wilhelmsen doesn’t quite fit the bill. Limited experience as a pro keeps him from being “stalled”, though he is older, and durability right now is an unknown beyond reports of some nerve issues in the elbow coming off his independent league campaign. If nothing else, his arm is reasonably fresh. His command and stuff are also pretty good for a guy who wasn’t throwing for a long time, perhaps much better than they have any right to be. Much talk has been devoted to the live fastball and the bombshell curve, but all the scouting reports I’ve seen on him also mention a change-up and a sinker, both in complementary terms, which indicates that the two could be serviceable pitches in time. The two biggest marks against Wilhelmsen is that he is older, which would make an organization inclined to be less patient with him, and he lacks experience. Everything else says he has the capacity to start.
When we look at Wilhelmsen’s situation, we ought to recognize that this is really quite different from every other instance we’ve recently seen where a pitcher was aggressively promoted to the major leagues in order to relieve. Time against more polished hitters is the biggest thing Wilhelmsen is lacking. Some of this was even referenced in the articles that have been circulating, about how he realized that he couldn’t blow the ball past the better hitters and started to get himself into more trouble as he moved up the ladder last season. He doesn’t need to start from scratch with a third pitch to keep hitters honest, he just needs to figure out how to set them up and when to use each of his offerings.
If he’s conscious of this and doesn’t become a two-pitch guy in the bullpen, then using him in the bullpen won’t keep him from starting at a later date. The ambitious, best-case scenario could involve him limiting his innings by relieving this season and then getting his feet wet starting for the Lara Cardenales in the LVBP over the winter. Continuing the daydream, if he does well there, he could contend for a spot in the rotation as early as next year. All of these plans are contingent on a few factors that may not come to pass, but none of them seem improbable. Wilhelmsen may yet be a possibility for the starting rotation.