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Wilkerson hopes to move past struggles in AFL

MLB.com @wboor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After a season filled with trials and tribulations, Steve Wilkerson finds himself back in the Arizona Fall League for a second straight season, looking to make up for lost time.

Wilkerson's 2018 campaign featured some highs -- he made his Major League debut on June 20 -- but it also had some lows.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After a season filled with trials and tribulations, Steve Wilkerson finds himself back in the Arizona Fall League for a second straight season, looking to make up for lost time.

Wilkerson's 2018 campaign featured some highs -- he made his Major League debut on June 20 -- but it also had some lows.

Arizona Fall League overviews for all 30 teams

The 26-year-old missed the first 50 games of the season while serving a suspension after he tested positive for an amphetamine during the offseason. Once he returned to the field, Wilkerson dealt with both an oblique and hamstring injury.

Wilkerson played in only 43 games this season -- 16 with the Orioles -- after totaling more than 100 in each of the past three seasons.

"I needed to make up some time," Wilkerson said. "I missed a large portion of the season with injuries and whatnot, so it's good to come out here, see some pitching and be on the field."

When Wilkerson played, he struggled to get into a rhythm. The eighth-round pick (2014) hit .174 with the Orioles and hit .270 in 20 games with Triple-A Norfolk, which is where he received the bulk of his playing time.

This was coming off a breakout 2017, during which Wilkerson hit .305/.375/.423 and finished the season as a member of MLB Pipeline's Arizona Fall League Top Prospects Team.

Despite all the struggles of 2018, Wilkerson made his MLB debut, and that brief taste of life in the Majors provided him the necessary motivation to try to work his way back.

"That's where I want to be," Wilkerson said. "It was everything I expected, and more. I really enjoyed it and I think next year, with the group of guys that we have coming back and the rebuild, if you will, that we are going through -- it's an exciting time and a lot of good opportunity for me and some of the younger guys."

Orioles hitters in the Fall League:

Ryan McKenna, OF (Baltimore's No. 12 prospect) -- McKenna, a fourth-round pick from the 2015 Draft, put together a bit of a breakout season, reaching Double-A Bowie for the first time. The 21-year-old set career highs in a number of offensive categories, including all three triple-slash categories (.315/.410/.457), homers (11) and RBIs (53). The outfielder also reduced his strikeouts from 128 to 101 and increased his walks from 43 to 66, while playing in one more game (127) in 2018 than he did in '17.

Martin Cervenka, C -- The Orioles added Cervenka in the Minor League Rule 5 Draft prior to the 2018 season. The 26-year-old signed with the Indians in 2011 and spent his entire career with that organization until the Giants picked him up for a month in November 2017. In his first year with the Orioles, Cervenka hit .258/.317/.457 over 97 games with Double-A Bowie. He also set career highs in homers (15) and RBIs (60), despite playing in only 97 games -- 15 fewer than he had in 2017.

Orioles pitchers in the Fall League:

Tanner Chleborad, RHP -- After getting shelled in one game with Double-A Bowie in 2017, Chleborad fared much better in an extended stint with the Baysox this season. The 25-year-old spent all of '18 with Bowie, where he went 6-1 with a 3.61 ERA. The right-hander converted four of his seven save opportunities and struck out 47, while walking 17. Chleborad appeared in 43 games and pitched 62 1/3 innings, both career highs.

Tyler Erwin, LHP -- Erwin's second full season couldn't have gone much better. The 24-year-old, who was born in Mesa, Ariz., set career highs in innings (68 1/3) and appearances (50), while dominating with Class A Advanced Frederick. Erwin held opponents to a .183 average, posted a 1.58 ERA and struck out 84, while walking 23.

Jay Flaa, RHP -- Flaa, a sixth-rounder (2015), impressed in his Double-A debut this season. The 26-year-old posted a 2.77 ERA over 41 appearances and notched 67 strikeouts in 65 innings. Flaa, who works in the upper-80s and lower-90s, doesn't blow hitters away, but mixes his pitches well and held opponents to a .155 batting average against this season.

Chris Lee, LHP -- The 2011 fourth-round pick pitched only 32 innings in an injury-filled season. Lee went on the disabled list in early April and missed the entire month, getting back on the field in May. However, he went back on the DL at the end of the month. Lee's second stint cost him a little more than eight weeks. Lee was also dropped from the 40-man roster in late July. When he got on the mound, the lefty went 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in 18 appearances. He posted a 3.50 ERA in 10 games with Double-A Bowie.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor.

Baltimore Orioles, Steve Wilkerson