Simply Baseball Notebook straight from the source Oct 2002

BRAD WILKERSON: Star on the Rise

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Although Major League Baseball has done everything it can to make you forget the Montreal Expos over the past 11 months, there are still many reasons they warrant attention. The Expos' roster includes one of the games' best players in Vladimir Guerrero and most underrated in Jose Vidro. They made the seasons' biggest splash on the trade market by acquiring Bartolo Colon on June 27th, and may have the NL's best pure rookie in centerfielder Brad Wilkerson.

If you live outside of Montreal you probably haven't heard of Wilkerson, so here's a quick lowdown: he's fast, has a cannon for an arm, hits for average and power, and he will only get better.

Wilkerson made his major league debut in July of 2001, and finished the season with 117 at bats. Although his playing time was limited and he hit just .205, Wilkerson said the experience was invaluable. "It helped a lot getting an idea of what I needed to do to get ready for this season - it was very beneficial to me," the 25 year old explained.

Following the 2001 season Wilkerson underwent shoulder surgery. "It was a minor surgery, they just went in there and cleaned it up," the Expos leadoff man said. "I had surgery there the year before. I worked really hard trying to get back in time for Spring Training which was kind of tough on me because I wasn't really 100%, but I was ready for the season."

Not only was Wilkerson ready for the season, he had lofty goals. "(Rookie of the Year) was a goal of mine at the beginning of the season, I try to put it on the back burner and go out there and prepare myself each and every day," the Kentucky native said candidly. " I just want to win ball games and do my best. I want to learn the game and get better."

Wilkerson is well on his way to achieving that goal, ranking at or near the top of most offensive categories including homeruns which he leads with 18 (as of 9/6). Not only is he leading all rookies, but he stands just one shy of the Expos team record held by Andre Dawson and Larry Walker.

"(Dawson and Walker) are two great players and it's just an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as them," the rookie said modestly. "I am just going to go out there and hit the ball hard, I am not going to go up there to try to tie or beat the record."

The Expos selected Wilkerson with the 33rd overall pick in the 1998 Draft (as compensation for the loss of free agent Darrin Fletcher) following a decorated college career at Florida. One of the best players in school history, Wilkerson played outfield, first base, and pitched for the Gators leading them to the College World Series twice during his career.

Wilkerson, who won 10 games as a senior, hopes to get a chance on the mound in big leagues. "I'd like to pitch an inning before I am done, but you never know what is going to happen," he said. "Right now it's far from my mind just because I really just want to take care of my arm."

Like many of his teammates, the rookie enjoys playing in Montreal, despite not speaking any French. "It's a great city - I wish some more fans would come out more often, but all in all the city's great and it's a good place to live," he explained.

Although the team remains in limbo and little has been done to rectify many of the organization's problems, Wilkerson believes that Montreal could once again become a baseball town. "I don't know what's going to happen, what the future holds it's not up to us (the players)," he commented. "The city is great, I think if they did build a new ball park and the fans did start to come out that it'd be a great situation. But I think if we end up staying in this ballpark, the way it is now, I think it'd be beneficial for us to move the team."

One of the advantages of playing in Montreal is getting to see one of the games' most amazing talents, Vladimir Guerrero, perform daily. "It's a treat, an honor to play next to one of the best ball players - he could go down as one of the best ever if he keeps going at this pace and stays healthy," the center fielder explained. "I think if he stays healthy he's going to be one of the best ever. He's just a very exciting player, both offensively and defensively."

Being a rookie, Wilkerson has been smart enough to look to some of his elders for guidance and support. "I've got Wil Cordero and (Troy) O'Leary right here in the lockers next to me, I have some great conversations with them," he said. "They have a lot of years under their belts, they know the ins and outs of the game..I just try to learn each and every day and ask questions."

Brad Wilkerson entered the 2002 season with lofty goals and hasn't disappointed anyone, including himself. Wherever the Expos may be in the future, look for Brad Wilkerson to be a mainstay in their lineup for years to come.

-David Zingler

- photo by Michael Vicklund

Wilkerson's page @ Baseball-Almanac.com

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