Wilhelmsen and the Future

Jay Yencich · March 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm · Filed Under Minor Leagues 

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.


7 Responses to “Wilhelmsen and the Future”

  1. Westside guy on March 29th, 2011 1:45 pm

    Cool, thanks for the report. I didn’t really know anything about the guy – but I look forward to seeing him pitch this year!

  2. heychuck01 on March 29th, 2011 1:54 pm

    I am not trying to be snarky with this comment, but…

    We are talking about throwing a ball. Yes, throwing a ball is different then pitching, but at the end of the day, is it really that hard to ‘pick up again’?

    I really do not know the answer to that question. I suppose by empirical evidence, yes it is hard to do. But if you do not overthink this, is it that much of a suprise?

    Anyway, I enjoyed the article, but I couldn’t help but think that sometimes we overglorify what these althletes are actually doing (it isn’t rocket science etc.).

  3. MKT on March 29th, 2011 3:10 pm

    We are talking about throwing a ball. Yes, throwing a ball is different then pitching, but at the end of the day, is it really that hard to ‘pick up again’?

    I literally hadn’t thrown a football in over 30 years. A few weeks ago one happened to land at my feet and I picked it up and tried to throw it to the guys who’d been throwing it around. The guy was about 20 yards away and my throw travelled maybe 15 yards.

    I wasn’t ever a good thrower to begin with, but I could at least throw a football to someone.

    Sure, with a few practice throws (and less than 30 years of absence), I’d soon enough be able to throw that 20 yard pass. But that’s just a recreational throw, it’s nowhere near being able to throw (or pitch) at a professional level. Not just the physical demands on a pitcher’s arms, but the necessary accuracy, spin, arm angle, etc. — not a trivial activity. I’m not sure how hard it would be to pick up the mental part, that might be easy or it might be hard too.

  4. just a fan on March 29th, 2011 3:24 pm

    With his broad arsenal, would Wilhelmsen be a good candidate for the closer role if starting doesn’t happen?

  5. Kazinski on March 29th, 2011 4:38 pm

    Certainly the upside is higher for Wilhelmsen as a starter than a bullpen guy. And as rapid as his developmment has been in baseball years to get to the majors, a lot of what young pitchers need to get developed is their head.

    You could make an argument that Felix has all the same tools he had when he came up with in 2005, but the biggest change is he is smart enough to use all his tools effectively now:

    Year IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
    2005 84.1 8.22 2.45 0.53 .253
    2010 249.2 8.36 2.52 0.61 .263

    Really not much difference there, and you could see the promise in 2005, now you really see the results of a pitcher that has the mental make-up to put everything to work. Of course I’m not saying Felix ever was a disappointment, his lowest WAR full season was 3.7 in 2008 when he was 22. But he has gotten better since then, and I think most of the improvement is mental not physical.

    I hope Wilhelmsen’s mental development at 26 is what makes his physical tools come together faster than you would expect with his level of experience.

  6. IwearMsHats on March 29th, 2011 4:54 pm

    If CJ Wilson can do it, then Tom Wilhelmsen can!

  7. joser on March 30th, 2011 12:48 pm

    Of course I’m not saying Felix ever was a disappointment,

    And yet every year, from his debut through 2009, there was somebody on here asking when Felix was going to “live up to his promise” and consistently be the pitcher we all knew he could be. People would respond by pointing to his age (and where most pitchers of comparable age were in their careers) and appeal for patience, but for some people he was a disappointment in every game where he gave up a run and every season where he didn’t absolutely dominate from beginning to end.

    I think we’ll need the same kind of patience with Wilhelmsen, for most of the same (mental development) reasons; of course he has a much lower ceiling even in the best case, and little in the way of expectations, so it shouldn’t matter much. But to the extent people get excited about him at all (and his story makes us want to be excited for him) they’re inevitably going to be impatient to see it reach its (hopefully) happy ending.

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