Aaron Wilkerson, 34, the new foreign pitcher signed by the Lotte Giants after releasing Dan Straily, has experience in Nippon Professional Baseball. Lotte officially announced the signing of Wilkerson for a total of $350,000 ($250,000 salary, $100,000 option) on the 18th, stating that they “highly valued his ability to adapt to Asian baseball through his experience in the Japanese league. “I am looking forward to playing in Korea because I have adapted well to the Asian culture through my experience in Japan,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson, a right-hander who played three major league seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers from 2017-2019 (14 games, 35 1/3 innings, 1-1 record, 6.88 ERA), spent most of his career in the minor leagues. After failing to find a home in the U.S. after reaching his 30s, he turned his attention to Asia. He headed to Japan last year, signing with the Hanshin Tigers.
With an estimated annual salary of $680,000, he wasn’t as highly touted as the size of his contract would suggest. He looked to be a depth signing, but he turned out to be much more than that. He won his debut on April 16 against the Yomiuri Giants, tossing six innings of one-run ball after starters like Shintaro Fujinami and Masashi Ito were sidelined with COVID-19. In May, he went 3-1 with a 1.04 ERA in four games and was named the Central League’s monthly MVP.
He was an ace through May, going 4-2 with a 1.45 ERA in seven games, but his performance plummeted in June, going 1-3 with an 8.23 ERA in seven games. After his last start on August 4 against Yomiuri (a five-run loss in one inning), he fell ill with COVID-19 and was sent home to the U.S. He finished the season on the second team and did not make the postseason roster.
The end result was a 5-4 record in 14 games (70⅔ innings) with a 4.08 ERA and 54 strikeouts. It was a solid performance with ups and downs. However, Hanshin did not re-sign Wilkerson. After the season, the team decided to shake things up by releasing six foreign players. One of those players was former KBO pitcher Raul Alcantara.
In his second year in Japan last year, Alcantara went 1-3 with a 4.70 ERA and 17 saves in 39 games (38⅓ innings) out of the bullpen, striking out 29 batters. After struggling in the second half of the season with a 6.52 ERA in 10 games, he was not re-signed and returned to South Korea, signing with Doosan, which holds his KBO rights.
Alcantara made a splash in the KBO this year. In the first half of the year, he went 9-3 with a 2.03 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 107 strikeouts in 17 games (106⅔ innings). He ranked first in WHIP, second in ERA, third in wins and strikeouts, and fifth in innings pitched, leading Doosan to a third-place finish.
Based on his performance in Japan last year, Wilkerson was better than Alcantara. Considering that Wilkerson is a starter and Alcantara is a reliever, Wilkerson definitely deserves a higher grade. Based on last year’s performance, it’s reasonable to expect Wilkerson to do just as well in South Korea.
The key will be his form this year. Wilkerson, born in 1989, is in his mid-30s, compared to Alcantara, who was born in 1992 and still sits in the low 150s. He’s not a pitcher who relies on velocity, but he does need to have some command to be effective. 안전놀이터
He struggled this year with the Oakland Athletics’ Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators, going 3-2 with a 6.51 ERA in 14 games (6 starts – 47 innings), but his velocity hasn’t dropped significantly. In his most recent outing, a six-day stint at Triple-A, he topped out at 92.5 mph (148.9 km/h) and averaged 91.2 mph (146.8 km/h) with his four-seam fastball. His top velocity in Japan last year was 149 mph.
Wilkerson doesn’t have a fiery fastball like Alcantara, but he has good deception, solid command, and a good mix of pitches, including a slider-curve-changeup. He is the type of pitcher who throws aggressively, so defense is a must. Lotte had the fewest errors in the league in the first half (42), but their fielding efficiency (DER), which is the percentage of balls in play that are thrown out, was 10th (.668), the lowest in the league. Wilkerson will need the support of the entire team to spearhead Lotte’s rebound.