Coming off a season with few bright spots and bounding toward another that appears to be much like it, the Orioles on Friday removed a player from their 40-man roster who was among the highlights of the 2019 campaign.
Stevie Wilkerson, a career infielder who led the Orioles in innings in center field in 2019 and became the first position player ever to earn a save, was designated for assignment, clearing a roster spot for Travis Lakins, a right-handed pitcher Baltimore claimed on waivers from the Chicago Cubs.
This marks the second time the Orioles have designated Wilkerson for assignment, doing so last spring training. He remained in the organization and returned to the majors, where he served as Baltimore’s primary center fielder for much of the year despite his only experience at the position coming in two Triple-A games just before his promotion.
Wilkerson might have made his greatest impact, though, on the mound. He made four relief appearances for the Orioles, never throwing above 60 mph; of the 127 pitches thrown below that mark in 2019, Wilkerson threw 35 of them (27.6%), per Statcast. He referred to his pitches as “poo poo” after one outing, which manager Brandon Hyde turned into the nickname “Dr. Poo Poo.”
In the early hours of July 26, Wilkerson took the mound at Angel Stadium for the bottom of the 16th inning and retired Brian Goodwin, Kole Calhoun and Albert Pujols in order to close out the Orioles’ 10-8 victory. He became the first position player to earn a save since saves became an official major league statistic. The ball he threw and cap he wore were sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
“I don’t think I’ve wrapped my head around it yet," Wilkerson said afterward. "What a wild game. That was just crazy. I’m glad I could go out there and be part of getting us a win.”
Wilkerson also supplied what was perhaps the Orioles’ defensive play of the season. In the final game of the year against the Boston Red Sox, he tumbled over the right-field fence at Fenway Park to rob Jackie Bradley Jr. of what would’ve been a go-ahead home run.
That might prove to be the last impactful moment of Wilkerson’s Orioles tenure. The club has seven days to trade him or put him on waivers, in which case all other teams would have a chance to claim him. In 2019, Wilkerson hit .225/.286/.383, with Statcast having his average exit velocity in the bottom 10% in baseball.
Lakins, 25, didn’t get past the Orioles on the waiver wire. Drafted by the Red Sox in the sixth round in 2015, Lakins pitched in their system until he was designated for assignment Jan. 17 and traded to the Cubs four days later. Chicago tried to pass him through waivers, but Baltimore made a claim and added Lakins to its 40-man roster.
In 16 appearances with Boston in 2019, Lakins posted a 3.86 ERA and allowed only one home run in 23 1/3 innings. He made three starts, though none lasted more than two innings. Lakins, who Baseball America ranked among Boston’s top 22 prospects every year from 2015-18, moved to a relief role in 2018 after battling an elbow injury in 2016 and 2017. His repertoire features a four-seam fastball, cutter, curveball and sparingly used changeup, with the fastball averaging nearly 94 mph, per Statcast.