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February 27, 2010 at 8:51 AM

Mariners sign onetime minor league all-star pitcher trying a comeback years after substance abuse derailed career

The Mariners are out on the Peoria Stadium field working out in front of fans for their annual FanFest event. Not the greatest day for it as it’s cool and overcast. While the team was working out yesterday, the Mariners were holding an impromptu tryout on a back field for a 6-foot-6, 190-pound right handed pitcher named Tom Wilhelmsen, 27, who lives in Tucson, Ariz. He used to be considered one of the top arms in the Brewers system before his career was derailed by substance abuse problems.
Drafted in the 7th round on 2002, he signed late and then breezed through a handful of Rookie Level appearances in 2003. He was then promoted that season to Class A Midwest ball, where he went 5-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 15 starts, striking out 63 and walking 27 in 88 innings. He threw 89-91 mph consistently that year, topping out at 94 mph.
And that was it for his career.
The following year, he was suspended for the season for a second violation of Milwakee’s substance abuse policy. He tried to come back with the Brewers in extended spring training in 2005 but was unsuccessful.
He’d been out of baseball since, until pitching for the Tucson Toros of the independant Golden League last season. He struck out 13 batters over 11 2/3 innings there, notching two saves. The Brewers re-acquired him last August, but then let him go less than a month later before he’d pitched in a game. Wilhelmsen had arm surgery after that (I’m not sure exactly what it was) and is still recovering.
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik and assistant Tony Blengino were out to witness the tryout and signed Wilhelmsen to a minor league deal when it was done. He’s taking his physical today and should be out on the field with minor leaguers after that.
No, this is not the next mound savior for the 2010 Mariners. Just a guy trying a comeback in pro baseball after years away from serious action, who just passed his first test. He’s got a lot more ahead, including getting his arm back into shape with post-operative rehab here to the point where he can appear in games. He’ll start in the low minors if and when that happens. I just thought it was an interesting human interest tale and am passing it along.
Anyhow, as we mentioned, the Mariners are working out in front of the crowd in Peoria. The autograph seekers got a little crazy and trampled each other to get at Ken Griffey Jr., who wound up walking away. Ichiro always seems to bring out the crazies in the paper and ink crowd and this year was no exception either.

Anyhow, the security guards got everything back under control after a lot of pushing, shoving, screaming and yelling.
“They love their Mariners,” one of them told me, shaking his head.
fanfest0227 002.JPG
Cliff Lee was a pretty big draw as well. Milton Bradley was out there signing as well, but without all the commotion attached.
If you missed Geoff Baker Live! last night, here’s the replay.



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