Mariners find their closer in Wilhelmsen
If smiles and warmth could be graded on the 20-80 professional baseball scouting scale, Seattle's Tom Wilhelmsen's would grade as an 80. Wilhelmsen could melt an igloo with the sincere warmth of his smile and his engaging personality. But he does more than smile.
Wilhelmsen is a top quality back end of the bullpen pitcher for the Mariners. For me, he has the stuff of an All Star.
Wilhelmsen is not quite a household name. They certainly know him in Seattle, but maybe not elsewhere. Yet. Give him a bit more time. A few more outings like the one's he's had recently and he'll be more well known. If the Mariners take a lead to the ninth inning, Tom Wilhelmsen will likely slam the door and assure the victory. Along with Brandon League, the Mariners back end of the bullpen may be equal to any in baseball, if not better.
If he were a heavyweight fighter, Wilhelmsen would consistently be delivering the knock out punch. That's how effective he has been.
To date this season, Wilhelmsen has been a total "shut down" reliever. He appears to have the type of disposition and makeup required to be a quality closer. He is calm, cool, collected and consistent. The man can flat out pitch. His power arm and pitching acumen provide a lethal combination for hitters to face. Quite simply, many batters have proven to be overmatched.
Wilhelmsen is a very large, very athletic, broad shouldered 6-foot-6, 230-pound right-handed pitcher.
Relying upon a four-seam 96-99 mph fastball, a two-seam fastball and a very effective 12-6 sweeping curve ball, Wilhelmsen very efficiently moves the ball around in the strike zone. He induces lots of swings and misses as he goes. Upon occasion he mixes in a slider and a change up, but those are mostly for show. They are infrequently used, and rarely needed.
Wilhelmsen approaches hitters like a top-notch surgeon approaches a patient. He is precise. He is careful. He gets outstanding results.
The Milwaukee Brewers signed Wilhelmsen in the seventh round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft out of Tucson High School in Arizona.
Wilhelmsen pitched briefly in the Brewers organization for the Arizona League Brewers and Beloit Snappers during the 2003 season. He tested positive twice for marijuana and was suspended for the following season. Following the conclusion of his suspension, he decided to leave professional baseball.
Wilhelmsen signed a Minor League contract with Seattle in 2010. During the interim years, Wilhelmsen worked as a bartender in an establishment near the University of Arizona campus. His determination has paid dividends.
I approached Wilhelmsen in the Mariners clubhouse during their recent series in Phoenix. I asked him to name the toughest guy he has faced so far? Without hesitation he said "Jeff Francoeur." He said Francoeur makes excellent contact against him. I also asked him how he likes to go after hitters? He said he likes to keep it simple. He indicated he would throw his four-seam fastball in various locations and then mix in an occasional curve to put the hitter away.
That's exactly what he did in the ninth inning of the Mariners only victory in Phoenix. In fact, he faced the minimum three hitters in the ninth inning. He got tremendous "run" and movement on his four-seamer and then closed the door with a wicked 79 mph curve. There are few hitters capable of keeping their balance when Wilhelmsen's type of directional and velocity differential are deployed. He used that strategy on two of the three batters he faced. The first hitter of the inning struck out on nothing but high velocity fastballs. It was impressive, to say the least.
Wilhelmsen's repertoire is so effective because of his mound demeanor. He is in control. He has an extremely clean and mechanically sound delivery. There is no quirky motion. No theatrics on the mound. He gets the ball and throws it. He uses all portions of the strike zone to his advantage. He isn't afraid to back a hitter away from the plate with a blazing fastball inside. Once the hitter has adjusted to that area, he will smoke the same pitch to the outside corner. He uses a similar technique "climbing the ladder" and elevating his fastball. If the pure velocity isn't enough to rattle the hitter, the outstanding location of the pitches is a deciding factor that allows Wilhelmsen to win the battle. His command and control are extraordinary.
As a big right-hander throwing downhill, one might think left-handed hitters might have an advantage at the plate against Wilhelmsen. However, that's just not the case. So far this season, righties are hitting a combined .209 and left-handed hitters are hitting .224. He has walked 11 while striking out 44. Wilhelmsen has a 3-1 record with a 3.00 ERA and a WHIP of 1.111 in 36 innings pitched.
The future of the Mariners is extremely bright when some of the top-pitching prospects in baseball are factored into the team's future. Left-handed starter Danny Hultzen has been promoted to Triple-A Tacoma. Fellow lefty James Paxton and right-handers like Taijuan Walker and Jose Campos are waiting in the wings to help the starting rotation.
Offensive prospects including shortstop Nick Franklin and third baseman Alex Liddi and Francisco Martinez as well as the versatile Vinnie Catricala may join young players such as Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak, Casper Wells, Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders in bringing increased run production to the club.
At the time the team gels with fresh new faces as well as the nucleus of maturing young players, Tom Wilhelmsen will have more games to close. It's a role the Mariners shouldn't have to worry about for quite some time.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.