On February 5, 2018, the San Diego Padres signed right-handed pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen to a minor league deal. He received an invitation to participate in MLB camp with his offer.
USA Today Sports‘ Bob Nightengale tweeted that Wilhelmsen will earn a $900K base salary if he makes the roster. Wilhelmsen was drafted in 2002 by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 7th round (199th overall). The 34-year-old has had flashes of success in his career, mostly as a member of the Mariners, where he earned 67 saves from 2012-2015. He spent 2017 with the Diamondbacks and Brewers, registering a 4.44 ERA with a 17/12 strikeout and walk ratio over 26 1/3 innings with Arizona before being designated for assignment in June. The reliever never appeared in a major league game for Milwaukee, instead pitching in Triple-A for the Brewers.
Wilhelmsen is trying to secure one of the Padres’ final bullpen spots, along with a group expected to include Buddy Baumann, Colten Brewer, Carter Capps, Phil Maton, and others. Kyle McGrath, Brad Wieck, and Trey Wingenter are presently on the outside looking in for a spot, but it is too early to rule them out. While Michael Mariot, Jose Castillo, Robert Stock, Jonathan Aro, Eric Yardley, and Rowan Wick are all considered long shots to make the 25-man roster.
Sunday, against the Oakland A’s in the top of the seventh, Wilhelmsen was roughed up. The A’s offense had Wilhelmsen’s number that day.
Kevin Merrell led off the inning with a triple and scored as the next batter, Anthony Garcia, hit a double down the right field line. Beau Taylor then stepped in for Matt Joyce at DH and took a four-pitch walk to put yet another man on base against the hurler. With still no outs in the inning, Ramon Laureano singled to center, loading the bases. Slade Heathcott then smoked a single to right that scored both Garcia and Taylor. The A’s fourth and final run of the seventh came on a sacrifice fly from Nick Martini that allowed Laureano to score from third.
The Padres relieved Wilhelmsen with Carter Capps, but he couldn’t stop the damage in the eighth inning, allowing two solo shots to Merrell and Garcia. One went out to right and the other to left field. The A’s scored their final run of the game off of Capps after he allowed a double to Heathcott and an RBI-single to Martini.
Capps missed the entire 2016 season and the start of the 2017 season following Tommy John surgery. He then underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in late September, and could potentially be ready by Opening Day. How the shoulder handles a more regular workload should provide more clarity on the likelihood of his availability moving forward.
When we last saw Capps, he was a dominant setup man who struck out 58 batters in 31 innings with Miami in 2015. His numbers before his elbow gave out were insane: 31 IP/7 BB/58 K. That’s a 16.8 K/9 with an 8.29 K/BB ratio.
Capps and Wilhelmsen are just two of the many competing this spring.
There will be many battles for bullpen spots. The Padres have depth in the ‘pen, and that should pay off in 2018.