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Alumni Update: Wilkerson and Rice looking to breakthrough

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Shannon Wilkerson photo courtesy of @ChattLookouts

Chattanooga Shuffle

After 40 games with the Revolution this season, outfielder Shannon Wilkerson’s contract was purchased by the Minnesota Twins on July 9; the first time the Twins had ever purchased an active player off York’s roster, and the first time Minnesota had ever signed a former Rev, period.

Once he reported to Double-A Chattanooga, Wilkerson got off to a blistering start, not dissimilar to his torrid start with the Revolution.  In 18 games between July 10 and August 2, Wilkerson hit his way to a high-water mark of .324.  In 27 games total with Chattanooga as of August 12, Wilkerson was getting on base at a .333 clip, and had driven in eight runs with 10 walks and four doubles as Chattanooga’s leadoff man.

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Shannon Wilkerson photo courtesy of Chattanooga Lookouts, Mark Meeks.

Wilkerson is no stranger to not being a stranger for long.  Like with his new club in Tennessee, he quickly endeared himself to York fans by posting almost identical stats in his first 18 games with the Revs, batting .316 with an on-base percentage of .358.  He ended up driving in 16 runs with seven steals and two homers in his time in the Atlantic League before joining the Twins.

Wilkerson is striving to be the ninth former Rev to reach the Major Leagues. If he does, he would be the third to make his MLB debut, joining left-handed pitchers Ian Thomas (Braves, 2014) and Scott Rice (Mets, 2013).  Wilkerson’s only big league experience to date came in spring training games with the Boston Red Sox, the organization which drafted him in the eighth round in 2009.  He made his Triple-A debut last season, playing 25 games for Pawtucket in the International League.

Waking up in Vegas

When Scott Rice (’11) became the first former Rev to make his MLB debut and the fourth Rev to reach the Majors overall in 2013 by pitching on opening day for the Mets, it began a run of two seasons spent exclusively on New York’s big league roster.  Unfortunately, both seasons ended prematurely due to a hernia injury (2013) and a sore elbow (2014).  As a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen, Rice still appeared in 105 games over two seasons despite his rotten injury luck; which has always unfortunately been the side story of his career.  It was continuous injuries following his drafting by the Orioles in the first round in 1999 which necessitated a 14-year odyssey through the minors to begin with, including a stop in York.  When Rice debuted in the show, he was the oldest rookie on an opening day roster in Majors in 2013, at 31.

The Mets re-signed Rice as a free agent this offseason however, and he’s spent the year at Triple-A Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League.  The PCL, with its high-altitude cities such as Albuquerque and Colorado Springs, is renowned for being tough on pitchers.  It hasn’t phased Rice this season though, as he’s posted a 2.05 ERA in 44 appearances out of the Vegas pen, in 30.2 innings in his familiar role as a match-up guy.  (Stats as of August 12.)

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Scott Rice photo courtesy of Las Vegas 51s, Steve Spatafore.

With such solid numbers, and with such familiarity with Mets Manager Terry Collins, one might wonder why Rice hasn’t already been recalled by New York for a third big league season.  The issue is Rice is no longer on the Mets 40-man roster upon re-signing with them, and if he were to be transferred onto it, New York would risk losing a younger prospect.  The reason is, such a player would have to clear waivers and be passed on by the 29 other organizations, in order to stay with the Mets in the minor leagues, removed from the 40-man.  While Rice’s numbers have certainly warranted a call-up, this has been the main sticking point, in a Mets organization with a bumper crop of both pitching and hitting talent that’s young.

Unfortunately in regard September call-ups, where any player on the 40-man roster is eligible to play in the Majors after the rosters expand past 25 following September 1, the same issue applies.  The Mets risk losing a player if they were to make a move for Rice.  That isn’t to say Rice is completely land-locked in the minors, moves do happen and despite his non-40-man status it’s still worth keeping an eye on.  With the way he’s pitched, there’s no doubt Rice could help a Mets club suddenly in playoff contention.  As usual, the onus will continuously be on Rice to stay healthy with his unlucky history.

-Paul Braverman

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