I recently had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Snappers right-handed pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen. Tom is an extremely candid & energetic young player barely a year removed from high school that always has a smile on his face. You can quickly see why he is such an inspirational force in the Snappers clubhouse. Tom told me just how close he was to going to Central Arizona College, what he throws, and how he was able to skip rookie ball by jumping directly into the Midwest League. All this talented young man wants to do is play baseball.
Brewerfan.net (BF): First of all I have to ask, are you aware of Brewerfan.net?
Tom Wilhelmsen (TW): Yeah, I know about it. My dad told me about it back home, he checks it out every day.
BF: Does he find it helpful to follow?
TW: Definitely. That's how he gets all of his information.
BF: What do they think about some of the conversations that go on among the fans?
TW: I don't know for sure, but my dad is always talking about it, so I take it he likes the interaction between the fans.
BF: Do the players talk about it at all or follow any of the features?
TW: Sure, a couple of the guys are really into it.
BF: You kind of burst onto the scene this year, so why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?
TW: I got drafted last June. I didn't sign (right away). I played summer ball with my high school team and I ended up doing really, really well. I went to the tournament in Las Vegas & pitched really well. I got home and decided I was going to go to Central Arizona College so I got all my stuff packed and I was about to go hang out with my friends when Brian Johnson, the scout, walked in the door and we sat down & got a deal going. After that I was signed. I signed too late to play the first season so I went to instructional league, they wouldn't let me pitch. (I attended) CDP, Career Development Program in Milwaukee, before spring training, and here I am.
BF: You were pretty close to going to school. What did it take from the Brewers to get you in the organization?
TW: I needed to hear more words of confidence in my myself from the Brewers. It didn't seem like at first they were really, really trying to get me, and I just needed that extra word.
BF: Most publications didn't project you to fall to the 7th round in the draft, do you have any idea why you fell that far?
TW: I have a slight reason why. Pretty much every team that came in I just flat out told them that I just wanted to play ball. So I think they kind of took that like "well, we can get him in the later rounds." The whole negotiating process was pretty intense, pretty hard. But the 7th round is fine by me, it makes no difference if it was the 29th or the 1st, I'd be out there pitching.
BF: That's great. So you do just want to play.
TW: That's it.
BF: Were you surprised that certain teams hadn't selected you before that point?
TW: The Brewers showed a lot of interest, but I actually thought the Cubs were going to pick me up or take a shot at me, but I'm sure everybody thought the Cubs were going to take at shot at them... they had like 8 picks in the first 2 rounds. The Brewers & the Cubs showed the most interest.
BF: So you knew you were Midwest bound.
BF: How does it feel to be not even a year removed from high school & pitching in the Midwest as a professional baseball player thousands of miles away from home?
TW: It's great. It's what I've always wanted to do. I knew I was going to be away from home, no matter how close or how far away it was. I guess I just thought about it so much that it kind of just stuck into my head and it's not that real big of a deal. I'm not homesick or anything, just as long as I'm on the field everything's alright, no matter where I'm at.
BF: The past couple of years the Brewers have taken some high picks out of Arizona such as Mike Jones & J.J. Hardy. Does that commitment to the area & the state of Arizona itself have any bearing to you?
TW: Oh yeah, Arizona is a great baseball state, great youth baseball state. Actually Hardy & I played on the same little league team together. Grew up together, played on the same little league and then we get picked by the same team. Chris Saenz actually went to my high school. I was a freshman when he was a senior. So that's pretty cool to know some guys automatically when you get to the team. The rest of the guys from Arizona that are in the organization just shows you that Brian Johnson can get it done, he's the man.
BF: It must be nice to have the rookie league camp & spring training in Arizona close to home.
TW: Oh yeah, that's very cool. Spring training & rookie ball is a hop, skip & a jump from my house, a couple of hours. When I go home I go to Long Wong's, a little restaurant that you don't see anywhere else. You see your friends between games or practice.
BF: Like you said, you signed late & didn't pitch at all for the Brewers for spring training. What did you do to impress the Brewers to jump you right over Arizona & Helena in the rookie leagues to begin your career in Beloit?
TW: I basically just set a goal in my head and I knew it was a goal I could achieve. I wasn't shooting for the stars or anything. I had the confidence to do it, and that obviously helps, and here I am.
BF: What are some of your other goals, short-term & long-term?
TW: Short-term goals...I pride myself in not walking too many people, I'm having a little trouble with that right now. To get a ring, obviously, you want to go to the final game. Long-term goals are to make it to the pros & be the man, dominate. It makes no difference how long it's going to take because I know I'll eventually get there, the sooner the better of course. To make it there and keep playing, wife & kids, house, all that stuff.
BF: What kind of pitcher are you, what do you throw?
TW: Primarily a fastball, curveball & a changeup is what I'm using right now. The changeup is giving me a lot of trouble right now. I don't know what I'm doing wrong with it, I just get lazy with it. If I get that pitch down it would definitely, definitely help. That has a lot to do with the amount of walks and base hits I've been giving up the past couple of games. I have a lot of confidence with my fastball, my best pitch, and a lot of confidence in my curveball. I'm not afraid to throw either of those pitches on a full count or any count, I can throw both of them for a strike. If it doesn't fall for a strike then the coach chews me out. But I'm using 3 pitches out there.
BF: What is your fastball topping out at?
TW: Right now, I don't know. Before I was topping out at 94. Consistently I'm probably throwing 89-91. Somewhere in that region. My curveball I have no clue.
BF: Does it even matter how fast you throw your breaking ball, but is the break & location what matters?
TW: To be honest I have no clue. The speed plus the break is important. It moves all over the place. I just toss it up there & whatever happens, happens.
BF: You've done a great job this year limiting your baserunners so far, even in a few of your "rough" starts. What's working for you so far this year and what's giving you trouble?
TW: For the first 3 games everything was working for me. The last 3 games I can't throw that changeup, which I definitely need, I can't throw my curveball for a strike, until last night I finally did. I think I was rushing, I've been thinking way too much. On the mound you're just close-minded almost, you're thinking "I have to throw a curveball." The past couple of games I'm up there, (throw a) curveball, walk somebody and I got to get that out of my head. I've got confidence in my pitches, they're just not working that well. I don't know, I don't know what it is. It'll be back, it comes & goes I guess.
BF: Do you work on not getting too hard on yourself?
TW: I've gotten a lot better. You've got to be calm & cool... you've got to be ice out there. People get base hits, and you walk a couple of guys, that happens in baseball. I know I can do better, but that's what happens and you just got to be cool about.
BF: With your fastball being the pitch you're most comfortable with, do the coaches try to get you to throw your curveball & changeup more to become more comfortable with those pitches as well even if it's potentially sacrificing your productivity?
TW: Yeah. Definitely. In yesterday's case I couldn't find my fastball, but my curveball was working. But usually the curveball doesn't work, so I'm (facing) a batter in an inning and if I can't feel the touch with one pitch I have to rely on the other. The changeup they want me throwing a lot more. I have to change the speed & location and let them know that there is more than 1 or 2 pitches coming. That's something they're really trying to get me to work on, that's what I'm trying to work on right now when I do my bullpens. The problem with the changeup is it's really a touch feel pitch that you have to throw like a fastball.
BF: Is that where you want the changeup to have the same arm velocity & delivery as your fastball so you don't tip the pitch?
TW: Yeah. Every pitch you want to have the same arm velocity, similar speed. It's all how you hold it and how it rolls off your fingers. With your fastball you just hold onto it & let it rip. The changeup is a whole different story.
BF: Practice makes perfect?
TW: Right, yeah.
BF: Were you ever considered a positional prospect in high school?
TW: No, not at all.
BF: Were you ever much of a hitter?
TW: I like to think that I am. I used to play first base, catch, way back when it Little League. Loved hitting. But, I got to high school and I pitched on Varsity during my sophomore year. But when I wasn't pitching I'd play Junior Varsity, I'd play first or some third. My junior & senior years it was strictly pitching. I might have took batting practice maybe 5 times.
BF: So you never had a future as a hitter?
TW: I'd like to think that I did, but coach put me at pitcher, so I that's what did, and I'm going to make it some way.
BF: Maybe down the road they can move you back.
TW: Yeah, yeah, right. If this doesn't work out.
BF: Who are the most influential people in your life & your baseball career.
TW: Well, my dad. He loves baseball, huge baseball fan. He was my coach forever. Pretty much all of my other coaches. My high school coach definitely, my family, Nolan Ryan. He definitely gives me something to look up to.
BF: Did you have any other baseball idols other than Nolan Ryan?
TW: I was a big huge fan of Frank Thomas when I caught. I used to think I was Gary Carter of the Mets. I guess it was Gary Carter, Frank Thomas and then Nolan Ryan.
BF: There has been a lot of talk with Doug Melvin & his new regime that they are going to be patient with their prospects, and let them enjoy success one level at a time. Do you think they'll be patient with you & do you expect to spend the entire season here at Beloit?
TW: I don't know. I don't even think about it really. If I keep on pitching like I've been, then I'll eventually get there. It makes no difference how long it takes, but I'm definitely going to be there. I don't know what they're thinking, I hope they're impressed.
BF: If you keep throwing 94 I'm sure they'll be impressed.
TW: Yeah, well, people can hit that. I gave up 6 or 7 hits last night.
BF: Is that frustrating when you think you have your best stuff?
TW: That's a little frustrating when you're on the hill and you're just like "what are you doing at the plate, you have no chance." And then you serve one up and it's a 500-foot bomb or something, that's a little frustrating. But then you walk around the mound, pace yourself a little bit and you gotta get cool again. You've got to be relaxed.
BF: Talking to Mike Jones last year he said that when they get you with your best stuff you just have to tip your cap at them.
TW: Yeah. What can you do? Some days you don't feel great and you just do it and have your best outing. It's weird, pitching is so mental, it's all in your head.
BF: Do you do anything to prepare yourself mentally?
TW: I listen to about an hour of Rage Against the Machine before I pitch. Just sit there & kind of rock out to myself. All the guys are there laughing and make fun of me. But that's what I do, just sit there & listen to Rage.
BF: Music seems to be such a huge part of pre-game preparation with players.
TW: Yeah, it clears your head, especially for the pitchers.
BF: Not to get ahead of yourself, but is there any talk with the players about the Coors Field affects in High Desert?
TW: I have no clue. I don't know what the weather is like in High Desert, and I haven't heard any of the guys talk about it.
BF: They often talk about how the climate affects the offense in Arizona being at a higher altitude. Have you noticed those affects growing up?
TW: Oh yeah. The difference between here & Arizona is huge. The ball doesn't seem to fly here at all, and that definitely helps me out. Arizona obviously is a little bit higher so the ball takes off a little more. That's not really a factor, at least in my head. It could be. I don't think about it, when I'm pitching (I do) whatever I have to do to get 3 outs.
BF: Are you a ground ball or a fly ball pitcher?
TW: I have no clue what I am right now. I don't know, some days I'm a ground ball pitcher, other days I'm a pop fly pitcher, and every once in a blue moon it's a strikeout day. I'd say I'm more of a ground ball pitcher.
BF: Do you try to get good sink on your fastball?
TW: Yeah, well definitely certain days it works a lot better than other days. When you're in the pen doing your pitching practice you're trying to see how to hold your fastball to get some raise or some sink. But when I'm on the mound I just fire. Whatever happens, happens to the ball, I have no clue if it's going to move this way or that way. And that could be bad, maybe I should know where it's going to go. But I don't, I just throw it. Other days it moves right down the heart and they get a hold of one.
BF: Is that what they call effectively wild?
BF: Do you guys follow the big league team at all?
TW: Yeah, oh yeah. I like to sit there watch them on TV whenever I'm at home. If there's a game and we're at the park, in the clubhouse, it's always on. So we know what's happening.v
BF: So do you like to listen to Uecker & Powell?
TW: Oh yeah. You gotta love them. Uecker's great.
BF: Have you been up to Miller Park at all?
TW: Yeah, I was there for that career development program the night before spring training. The first couple weeks of our season the weather was terrible. It was snowed out & freezing, so we couldn't get a work-out in anywhere so we actually drove up to Miller Park during one of their games. We sat there and watched the first 6 innings and then worked out at Miller Park. I've been there a couple of times. We're trying to get a game setup I think with Wisconsin (the TimberRattlers) up there...I don't know if it's set in stone. That would be very cool if they get that game up there.
BF: Does that give you & your teammates extra motivation to make it?
TW: Oh yeah, oh yeah. It definitely does. Just to know that you could be right here in a couple of years you want to make it happen, let's do it.
BF: What's your take on pitch counts?
TW: Drives me nuts. Yeah, they do. I understand it, and I'm glad we have it, just because we can't be throwing 120 pitches. On the other hand I get real mad when I get taken out in the middle of an inning because of pitch counts. It ticks me off, and gets the blood pumping real fast, even more so than walks.
BF: Do your teammates feel the same way?
TW: Yeah, I think so. Nobody wants to be taken out of a game because you've thrown "x" amount of pitches. But, it makes perfect sense, your coaches don't want to see you get hurt, you don't want to have yourself get, hurt, so you have to respect it. It's a love-hate kind of relationship with the pitch count & pitcher.
BF: Who's pitching today.
TW: Dennis Sarfate. You're in for a show.
BF: Thank you very much for taking the tim to sit down with us. Best of luck to you in the future, and we hope to see you in Milwaukee very soon.
TW: Thanks a lot.
By the way, that day we were indeed in for a show as Dennis Sarfate pitched extremely well in 7 solid innings of work, even though he took the loss in a 1-0 ballgame. Brewerfan.net would like to thank Tom Wilhelmsen & his father John for taking the time to talk with us at great length during Brewerfan.net's 2nd annual FanFest. Keep your eyes open for an exclusive interview with Prince Fielder in the coming weeks that was conducted on the very same day. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.