Steve Wilkerson’s hitting help, AL East odds, Eastern League change

When he began to prepare for the 2019 season, Orioles infielder and utility candidate Steve Wilkerson went beyond just working out and getting in some swings and throws.

He went to a swing coach who has a strong reputation. Wilkerson spent some time in Santa Clarita, Calif., with Craig Wallenbrock, who has worked with several major leaguers. A coach some feel turned around the career of J.D. Martinez.

Wilkerson, an eighth-round draft pick in 2014 out of Clemson, was not looking for anything career-changing, but was hoping to make some tweaks he felt were important.

“Was just working on cleaning up my (bat) path and getting myself in the correct position to hit the ball more consistently,” he said. ” Wanted to make my swing path more efficient. Getting my lower half in the right position to see the ball and drive it.”

Wilkerson-Tag-at-Third-Sidebar.jpgWilkerson is among a slew of infielders at spring training in what should be solid camp competition for opening day roster spots. If the Orioles consider him for a utility job, that’s a role the previous O’s brass thought he could handle in 2017, and he began to add positions beyond his usual second base. It went well for Wilkerson, who can play around the infield and even in the outfield if needed.

He made his major league debut last year on June 20. Over 49 plate appearances he hit .174/.224/.239. Wilkerson seemed to be a player on the radar with both Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter, and now in Sarasota he’s trying to establish himself with the new O’s leadership.

“To be honest, I don’t know where I stand with the new regime coming in,” Wilkerson said in a recent phone interview. “I think there’s a lot to be excited about. Being at FanFest, it was a really energetic and motivated staff. I am very thankful that Buck and Dan gave me a chance to get to the big leagues and to show some versatility, which was probably the reason I made it to the big leagues.

“The new staff has brought in players that they like. What it will come down to is, come spring training, toe the line, go head-to-head and compete and, you know, play your best game and control what you can control. Competition is healthy, and I look forward to being one of the guys in the mix.”

The online betting website has listed these odds for the teams to win the American League East this year:

7-5: New York Yankees
3-2: Boston Red Sox
5-1: Tampa Bay Rays
10-1: Toronto Blue Jays
25-1: Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles are listed with the longest odds at 250-1 to win the AL pennant. Boston and New York are co-favorites at 3-1, with Houston at 4-1. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a 4-1 favorite to win the National League pennant.

Eastern League changes: The Double-A Eastern League, where the O’s affiliate Bowie Baysox compete, is changing how teams qualify for the playoffs, beginning with this season.

The Eastern League is switching from a full-season format to a split-season format. Under the new rules, the first-place team from each division during both the first and second halves of the season will qualify for the postseason.

The first half of the season will end on the 76th day of the regular season and the second half of the season will begin on the 77th day. For 2019, the final day of the first half will be on Tuesday, June 18, with the second half of the season starting Wednesday, June 19. The second half will conclude on Monday, Sept. 2, the final day of the regular season.

Postseason berths will be awarded to the first-place teams in both the Eastern and Western divisions during the first half and second half of the season. In the event the same team finishes first in both halves of the season, the second playoff spot for that division would be awarded to the team from that division that had the best full-season record.

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