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Tom Wilhelmsen Is Really Raw

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You're in the Major Leagues!
You're in the Major Leagues!

I mean as a pitcher, not as a dude. I don't really know much about Tom Wilhelmsen as a dude, and based on what little I do know, he seems more chill than raw.

Tom Wilhelmsen was a seventh-round pick by the Brewers in 2002. He got up to A-ball Beloit in 2003, and then he stopped playing baseball so he could travel the world and work as a bartender. He threw a little in indy ball in 2009, and then prior to the 2010 season, he signed with the Mariners and went on to throw 74 combined innings in the low minor leagues. All right, cool story.

Then, in 2011, he broke camp with the big league bullpen. All right, cooler story. He made eight appearances before being demoted to double-A, and after throwing 60 mediocre innings there, he returned to the bigs again. Wilhelmsen's only thrown 12.2 innings as a Mariner, but those are 12.2 innings in the Major Leagues less than two years after being completely off anyone's radar. That's a hell of an achievement.

While Wilhelmsen's story is a fun one, though, the reality that he's underdeveloped comes as little surprise. It comes as little surprise to anyone who's watched him, and it should come as little surprise to anyone who hasn't watched him, but who's familiar with his history. Of course Wilhelmsen is underdeveloped. When would he have developed?

You can see how raw he is just by noting the ten walks in nine games. But me, I prefer a different set of numbers:

Fastballs: 156 thrown, 64% strikes
Non-fastballs: 80 thrown, 44% strikes

We're obviously dealing with small sample sizes, here, but the numbers are pretty suggestive. Wilhelmsen's been fairly good about throwing his fastball in the zone, even if he hasn't been spotting it. His changeup and curveball, though, have been all over the place. He gets promising velocity and movement, but without a consistent feel for either pitch, neither is a weapon.

And I don't think this is a shock. Wilhelmsen was out of baseball for a long time. It stands to reason that whatever feel he once had for his pitches would've atrophied, and the fastball comes back sooner than the other stuff. The other stuff takes more work, because the other stuff feels funny coming out of the hand.

What's encouraging, and what keeps Wilhelmsen relevant, is that his fastball is pretty good. It sits in the mid-90s, and even though he hasn't thrown any other weapons, Wilhelmsen's heater has generated 22 misses on 83 swings in the Majors. That's a good rate of misses for a primary pitch.

What's holding Wilhelmsen back, then, is the feel for a second pitch. If he can take care of that, he could be a good reliever, or a fringe starter. And if he could develop a feel for a third pitch as well, then his ceiling would be even higher. The same, of course, goes for any inconsistent pitcher with a good fastball, but with Wilhelmsen, there's more hope, given his background. With Wilhelmsen, it might be a simple matter of accumulating reps after such a long layoff.

It was probably silly to expect Wilhelmsen to contribute out of the Major League bullpen this year, given that he was basically a rule 5 draft pick. But while his performance has been weak, his fastball's been pretty good, and it's clear why the Mariners saw fit to take a chance on his arm. Try not to be too discouraged by his numbers, at any level. In terms of development, he's 27 going on 20, and he is very much a work in progress.