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Center Field The Newest Opportunity For Orioles' Stevie Wilkerson

May 10, 2019
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is giving Stevie Wilkerson an extended look in center field.

So far, the versatile switch hitter is making the most of the opportunity. 

Wilkerson has made six appearances, including five starts, in center field and has played flawlessly. He has also given the Orioles a jolt with his bat with 12 hits, including a pair of homers, and five RBIs in 14 games. 

"I just like the fact that Stevie's bringing us a ton of energy, no doubt, and he's bringing some life at the plate," Hyde said. "He's really an aggressive swinger. He gives us a huge lift and the energy he plays with and how athletic he is, strong kid that can run, switch-hits. 

"He's swinging the bat and it's fantastic. His competitiveness at the plate, he can go deep on you, also. So he's been a really nice addition."

Wilkerson entered spring training prepared to play every position but catcher, joking that he brought 10 gloves to Sarasota, Fla. 

The Orioles planned to use Cedric Mullins as the regular center fielder, but he was sent to Triple-A Norfolk last month after struggling at the plate. The demotion created an opportunity for Wilkerson, who has focused on just trying to keep things simple in the middle of the outfield. 

"Your job out there is to catch the ball, hit the cutoff man and know the situation," Wilkerson said. "You can keep it simple and not overcomplicate things and make it more difficult on yourself."

The Orioles have other options in center field, and Joey Rickard has made 15 appearances at that spot, committing one error in 33 opportunities, but is hitting just .202.

For now, Hyde wants to see Wilkerson take some ownership of the position. 

"[Wilkerson] done a nice job," Hyde said. "I think he can cover some ground. Yeah, I like the way Stevie's moving around and I might continue to give him opportunities out there. Joey's going to play out there, too. But I'd like to see him out there again."

Wilkerson, who was selected by the Orioles in the eighth round of the 2014 MLB Draft, received a 50-game suspension without pay in December 2017 after testing positive for amphetamines, a stimulant banned by MLB. 

He moved past the suspension and played well enough at Norfolk to get promoted to the Orioles for the first time June 19. He made his major-league debut one day later against the Washington Nationals. Wilkerson earned his first major league hit and RBI with a single in the ninth inning against the Atlanta Braves June 22. 

Wilkerson was placed on the disabled list July 3 with a left oblique strain and returned to Orioles in September. Overall, he appeared in 16 games with the major-league club and collected eight hits in 46 at-bats with three doubles and three RBIs. 

After not earning a spot in Baltimore out of spring training, Wilkerson played his way onto the team by batting .316 (18-for-57) with two home runs, a triple and 10 RBIs in 15 games for the Tides this year.

Wilkerson appears much more comfortable at the major-league level this time around. He is looking to reward Hyde for his confidence in him. 

"I've gotten a good amount of playing time here as of late," Wilkerson said, "and it's been fun."

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox