When the Milwaukee Brewers lost starter Jimmy Nelson for the season, it was a big blow to their rotation. In order to fill those innings, manager Craig Counsell has had to rely on his bullpen and younger starters. Last night, in Pittsburgh, Counsell gave the ball to 28-year-old Aaron Wilkerson.
As for how Wilkerson did, he went 2.1 innings, gave up three runs on four hits, walked one, and did not strike out a batter on 40 pitches (24 strikes). Since Wilkerson hadn’t started in a game since September 7, it is no surprise that his pitch count wasn’t that high going in.
Now, last night wasn’t Wilkerson’s debut. Back on September 15, he threw a scoreless inning of relief in the Brewers 10-2 win over the Miami Marlins.
Wilkerson was not a top prospect by any means. He wasn’t drafted in 2011 out of Cumberland University and ended up playing in the Frontier League in 2012 and 2013. Before getting the opportunity to pitch in independent ball, he was working in the frozen food section of a Texas grocery store.
In July 2014, Wilkerson was signed by the Boston Red Sox and pitched in their organization for three seasons. One year after being signed, he was named a MILB Organizational All-Star for going 11-3 with a 3.10 ERA in 29 appearances across three levels.
Before the 2016 trade deadline, Wilkerson was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for infielder Aaron Hill. Now, the Red Sox don’t regret that deal like they probably regret trading Travis Shaw this past offseason. However, Wilkerson has done a good job in the Brewers organization.
After having a 6.42 ERA in 11 starts at Triple-A Colorado Springs last year, the Brewers started Wilkerson at Double-A this year for the Biloxi Shuckers. While in the Southern League, he was 11-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 24 starts and had 143 strikeouts in 142.1 innings.
Down the stretch of the Shuckers season, Wilkerson went on a good run. In his final 11 starts, he was 6-1 with a 2.97 ERA. This includes a complete game two-hit shutout against the Mississippi Braves back on July 23.
Due to that late season success, Wilkerson got the chance to pitch for Colorado Springs in the postseason. In game two of the semifinals against the Memphis Redbirds (St. Louis Cardinals), he threw seven no-hit innings and struck out 11. The Sky Sox lost that series, but Wilkerson definitely made a good impression and got a major league opportunity.
For his pitch arsenal, Wilkerson uses a fastball that averages at 91.6 miles per hour (Fangraphs) to go with a slider and an occasional curveball. One thing to monitor in his career is that his flyball rate is at about 46%. So, if the strikeouts don’t come, he has to rely on not getting a lot of hard hit contact.
It doesn’t matter how this Brewers season ends in terms of Wilkerson being a success story. He didn’t give up on his dream and got the chance to make a start in a pennant race. We will see if Counsell gives him another start over the final week and a half.