It was a moment to be remembered forever.
As Paul Konerko exited his last game as a Chicago White Sox at US Cellular Field, the crowd broke out into a euphoric clap. A memory replaying in the heads of White Sox fans for the rest of their lives.
Whether the tears that blinded your eyes or your focus being strictly on Konerko in that surreal moment, you may not remember who came into the game at first base as a defensive replacement.
It will be one of those questions that die-hard White Sox fans will quiz each other about for decades to come. Who did come in for Paulie on that historic day?
The answer is Andy Wilkins and though he respects the heck out of Konerko—just like the rest of us—he does not want to only be remembered for being “the guy that replaced Paul Konerko”.
Chicago’s front office did not do any favors for Wilkins this offseason. The first real sign that this winter would be special for the White Sox was the signing of first baseman/designated hitter Adam LaRoche. As if it was not enough to be playing behind the reigning AL Rookie of Year in Jose Abreu, Wilkins now finds himself behind a proven left-handed bat.
Anybody remember Brad Eldred? Didn’t think so.
Brad Eldred (no not former starter Cal Eldred) was a minor league sensation for the White Sox in 2008. Just like Wilkins, he was a power-hitting first baseman who tore up minor league pitching at Charlotte. Slamming 35 homers and 100 RBIs seven years ago, many considered Eldred a lock to be a September call-up during the White Sox’s postseason push. His .244 average and 144 strikeouts in 114 games said otherwise.
Now, Eldred is a minor footnote in White Sox minor league lore that never got a chance to play on the Southside of Chicago. While his power was indeed impressive, he could never string enough quality at-bats together to be considered for a roster spot that year.
Last season Wilkins also tattooed the ball on countless occasions. His 30 home runs were a sight to see and his .294 batting average led the front office to giving him a chance with the big league club.
After his first major league season, Wilkins found himself at the bottom of every offensive statistical category. Though he only received 43 at-bats, his .140/.178/.186 split left a bad taste in his mouth. His inability to homer also made evaluators question if his success in the minors could translate to the majors.
Nobody is expecting Wilkins to become the next Konerko. Nobody is expecting Wilkins to be a mainstay in the White Sox lineup for decades. Still, there is something to say about how minor league success does not always guarantee success in the majors, especially hitters who rely solely on their power. White Sox fans do not need a tutorial on that. Anybody remember Joe Borchard?
If Wilkins wants to have a future in the majors made up of more than just “cup of coffee” spurts, he will have to do what many before him have not: drastically learn plate discipline on the fly. Just like Dayan Viciedo, Wilkins possesses all the power in the world, but has to learn to be patient. If, and that is a giant if, he could see himself as trade bait and find some substantial time at the major league level in the future.
Until then Wilkins will continue to attempt to make the most of the limited chances he is given. Wilkins is just hoping his career highlights will not be summed up by that one moment last September.