Getting to CHS Field

Bartender "It's Closing Time," Saints Sign Former Major Leaguer Tom Wilhelmsen

ST. PAUL, MN May 2, 2018

He was a highly touted prospect out of high school, but after one year in the minor leagues Tom Wilhelmsen left baseball for five years.  He backpacked around Europe and became a bartender.  After getting the itch to return to the life he once had, it took him just two years to reach the Major Leagues.  After 344 games pitched in The Show, Wilhelmsen will join the St. Paul Saints for the 2018 season.

 

          The 34-year-old Wilhelmsen spent last year in the Major Leagues with the Arizona Diamondbacks and in Triple-A with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.  With the Diamondbacks he went 1-1 with a 4.44 ERA in 27 games.  In 26.1 innings pitched he walked 12 and struck out 17 while opponents hit .253 against him.  The Diamondbacks released him on June 16 and he was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers on June 22 and assigned to Colorado Springs.  He went 0-1 with a 13.15 ERA in 16 appearances before being released on August 5.

 

          In his seven-year Major League career, Wilhelmsen went 14-15 with a 3.53 ERA and 68 saves in 344 games.  In 385.0 innings he walked 171, struck out 339, opponents hit .225 against him with a 1.27 WHIP.

 

          Wilhelmsen was selected in the seventh round of the June Amateur Draft by the Brewers in 2002 out of Tucson Magnet (AZ) High School.  He began his professional career in 2003 and was outstanding at Single-A Beloit as a starter.  He went 5-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 15 starts.  In 88.0 innings he walked 27 and struck out 63 while opponents hit .241 against him.  Wilhelmsen went 18.1 innings pitched without allowing an earned run over three starts from April 20-May 1, including a career high 10 strikeouts on April 20 at Fort Wayne.  He tossed a 9.0 inning complete game allowing one unearned run on five hits on May 28 at Battle Creek.

 

It was at that point that Wilhelmsen left the game of baseball, backpacked around Europe, hiked the National Parks, worked at The Hut, a popular live music/tiki bar in Tucson near the University of Arizona campus, and played in a co-ed rec softball league.  In 2009 he was ready to get back into baseball and signed with the Tucson Toros, an independent team in the Golden Baseball League.  He pitched 11 games, had a 6.17 ERA and started to pitch better as the season went along.  The Brewers contacted him, since he was still under contract with them, and Wilhelmsen pitched a side session for them, but was released after it was discovered he had a right bicep injury.

 

Following his release he returned to The Hut, and while his arm healed his agent called up the Seattle Mariners.  They offered him a minor league contract in February of 2010 and he quickly moved through three levels that season: the Arizona League, the Low-A Northwest League, and Single-A in the Midwest League.  He finished the year 7-1 with a 2.19 ERA and one complete game in 15 games (12 starts).  In 74.0 innings pitched he walked 19 and struck out 73 while opponents hit a miniscule .187 against him.  He was so good that year he earned Pitcher of the Week honors in back-to-back weeks at Single-A Clinton, allowing one earned run over 20.0 innings of work during the two-week span.

 

The incredible journey reached the pinnacle at the start of 2011 when Wilhelmsen began the season with the Seattle Mariners.  He had a solid first season in the Majors going 2-0 with a 3.31 ERA in 25 games.  In 32.2 innings pitched he walked 13 and struck out 30 while opponents hit just .210 against him, and an impressive 1.16 WHIP.  He recorded his first Major League strikeout in his first appearance on April 3 at Oakland when he threw a perfect inning of relief and struck out David DeJesus.  Wilhelmsen also spent two months at Double-A Jackson, primarily as a starter, the last time in his career he was used as a regular starter.  He went 4-5 with a 5.49 ERA in 14 games (12 starts).

 

          Wilhelmsen was one of the top closers in the American League in 2012 going 4-3 with a 2.50 ERA and 29 saves in an astounding 73 games.  He finished seventh in the American League in saves and games pitched, eighth in games finished (48) and ninth in win probability added (3.3).  In 79.1 innings pitched he walked 29 and struck out 87 while opponents hit just .202 against him, and a dominating 1.11 WHIP.  He went 19 straight appearances (23.0 IP) without allowing a run from May 25-July 17 and recorded a save in 10 straight decisions from August 28-September 22.

 

In 2013 Wilhelmsen spent most of the season with the Mariners and went 0-3 with a 4.12 ERA and 24 saves in 59 games.  In 59.0 innings pitched he walked 33 and struck out 45 while opponents hit .213 against him.  He went 18 straight relief appearances (20.0 IP) without allowing an earned run (one unearned run) from April 8-May 26.  Wilhelmsen was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma on August 6 and went 0-1 with a 10.50 ERA in eight games (two starts) before being recalled on September 1.

 

Wilhelmsen had a great bounce-back season in 2014 spending the entire year with the Mariners.  Despite not closing, he went 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA and one save in 57 games.  In 79.1 innings pitched he walked 36 and struck out 72 while opponents hit a microscopic .171 against him, and his best WHIP in his Major League tenure, 1.05.  He had two separate stints of 10 relief appearances or more without allowing a run.

 

In 2015 Wilhelmsen returned to closing towards the latter half of the year taking over for Fernando Rodney.  He went 2-2 with a 3.19 ERA and 13 saves in 53 games for the Mariners.  In 62.0 innings pitched he walked 29 and struck out 60 while opponents hit .246 against him.  He went 13 straight appearances without allowing a run (14.1 IP) from August 17-September 18.  Wilhelmsen also recorded a save in 12 straight decisions from July 23-September 18 and recorded a save in eight straight appearances from August 23-September 6.  He spent a short stint at Triple-A Tacoma from July 6-12 where he didn’t allow a run in 4.0 innings.  Upon his return to the Majors he lowered his ERA by more than a run and a quarter.

 

Following the 2015 season Wilhelmsen was traded, along with centerfielder James Jones and a player to be named later, to the Texas Rangers in exchange for centerfielder Leonys Martin and RHP Anthony Bass.  He began the season with the Rangers and went 2-3 with a 10.55 ERA in 21 games.  On May 16 he was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock and went 0-1 with a 1.13 ERA in five appearances before being recalled by the Rangers on June 4.  He pitched four more games for the Rangers before being released and re-signing with the Mariners.  Wilhelmsen returned to form and was 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA and one save in 29 games.  He also pitched two games at Triple-A Tacoma allowing one run in 3.0 innings.

 

Wilhelmsen was released by the Mariners in November of 2016, spent 2017 with the Diamondbacks and Brewers organizations before going to spring training with the San Diego Padres in 2018.  He was released prior to the beginning of the season.

 

The Saints have now signed 22 players this off-season.

 

Roster

LHP – Ryan Boelter

RHP – Mike Devine

RHP – Jake Esch

LHP – Ken Frosch

RHP – Eddie Medina

RHP – Vinny Nittoli

RHP – Ryan Schlosser

RHP – Matt Solter

RHP – John Straka

RHP – Beck Wheeler

RHP – Tom Wilhelmsen

C – Justin O’Conner

OF - Kes Carter

OF – Chad Hinshaw

OF - Max Murphy

OF – Richard Prigatano

OF - Jordan Smith

INF – Josh Allen

INF – Dante Bichette Jr.

INF/OF – Jayce Boyd

INF – Noah Perio

INF Brady Shoemaker

The Saints had signed infielder Jake Hager, but he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers organization on February 20.  RHP Tyler Warmoth was signed on April 9, but has elected to pursue other opportunities outside of baseball.

 

          The Saints begin the 2018 season on the road against the Gary SouthShore Railcats on Friday, May 18.  The Saints first game at home is on Monday, May 21 against the newest member of the American Association, the Chicago Dogs, at 3:05 p.m.