Orioles facing roster decision with Wilkerson (update)

The Arizona Fall League attracts scouts and officials like moths to flames, and no one wants to get burned.

Don’t miss out on a prospect who may become available. Don’t let one of your own slip away.

The Orioles must decide whether to protect infielder Steve Wilkerson before the Rule 5 draft that closes out the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Assigning him to the Salt River Rafters in the AFL can provide a clearer read on his abilities, though it also gives representatives from other teams the same opportunity.

Flames burn and a double-edged sword can cut.

“The Arizona Fall League can help us evaluate him,” said director of player development Brian Graham. “My belief is we have to be good evaluators of our own players. I feel strongly that we have to do that. Wilkerson and (left-hander) Luis Gonzalez are guys out in the Fall League that we’re going to have to make decisions on with the major league roster.

“Let’s be good evaluators of our own players.”

duquette-showalter-mic-sidebar.jpgWilkerson turns 26 in January and he’s coming off his finest season in the minors, batting a combined .305/.375/.423 in 112 games between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. He played first, second and third base, shortstop and right field.

The Orioles may put Wilkerson, an eighth-round pick out of Clemson University, on the 40-man roster and give him a chance to win the utility job in spring training with Ryan Flaherty eligible for free agency. Otherwise, they risk losing him in the Rule 5 draft, though he’d have to stay on a team’s roster the entire season or pass through waivers and be offered back to the Orioles.

A difficult decision is pending. It usually happens in the weeks leading up the meetings.

“He’s athletic, he’s got great makeup, he can run, he can play all four infield positions, as well as the outfield,” Graham said. “He’s a switch-hitter. Does a lot of things really well. He’s a high-energy guy who loves to play.”

Wilkerson logged only one inning at shortstop this summer, with the Keys, and committed an error. He’s made 35 starts in four minor league seasons and it’s regarded as his weakest position, which could work against him.

Teams ideally want utility infielders to be especially skilled at shortstop. The Orioles were committed this summer to leaving Manny Machado at third base while J.J. Hardy missed more than two months with a fractured right wrist. Machado may not be a backup option for Tim Beckham next season.

Wilkerson has been playing second base in the AFL. Might be a good idea to slide him over to short and continue the evaluation.

Update: Wilkerson played second again last night and went 2-for-3 with a triple and run scored to raise his average to .350.

Rubén Tejada played shortstop, second and third for the Orioles this year before they outrighted him to Triple-A Norfolk on Aug. 17. Luis Sardiñas, claimed off waivers on May 24 and outrighted two days later, has played all four infield positions. Most of the starts for Tejada and Sardiñas have come at shortstop.

Bowie’s Erick Salcedo has made 533 starts at shortstop in the minors, 37 at second base and 10 at third.

As for Gonzalez, the 25-year-old lefty posted a 2.47 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with a .173 opponents’ average in 36 relief appearances at Frederick. He allowed only 39 hits and struck out 75 batters in 62 innings.

Gonzalez possesses a mid-90s fastball and an effective slider, which could appeal to another team if he’s left unprotected. But he hasn’t pitched above the Carolina League. It would be tough for a team to carry him in its bullpen for an entire season.

* The news yesterday that the Orioles signed first baseman/outfielder Joe Maloney to a minor league contract brought the usual Twitter reaction. Choose your favorite:

Start printing the World Series tickets.
Duquette making it clear he’s all-in.
Big whoop.
How useful can he be to the Orioles?
All our worries are behind us.
Book those season tickets now.

It’s an offseason tradition that includes me having to remind some fans that every team inks players to minor league deals to provide depth in the farm system. The Dodgers will do it. The Yankees will do it. Every single team in the majors, both playoff worthy and bottom feeders, will do it.

Granted, many of these teams will spend more money than the Orioles and bring in A list free agents, but they’re also going to sign a player similar to Maloney. These are two separate topics.

Maloney won’t be running down the orange carpet on opening day. He wasn’t signed out of the Can-Am League to be part of the 25-man roster. It’s a depth move.

There are more to come.

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