Canadian Prospect Matt “Tugboat” Wilkinson Earns Promotion to High-A

Canadian prospect Matt Wilkinson dominated at Single-A and will now face a new challenge with the Guardians' High-A affiliate.

A detail view of Cleveland Guardians hats in the dugout during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.
CINCINNATI, OHIO - AUGUST 15: A detail view of Cleveland Guardians hats in the dugout during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on August 15, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

After earning JUCO Pitcher of the Year honors with Central Arizona last season, Matt Wilkinson put himself on many a team’s radar heading into the MLB Draft. He had earned a 1.07 ERA with 136 strikeouts through 84 innings by season’s end, and with a commitment to Arizona State in his back pocket, the southpaw had options heading into the summer months.

In the 10th round, the Cleveland Guardians selected the left-handed sophomore, and Wilkinson put pen to paper, inking a $110,000 bonus to turn pro and forego the opportunity to join the Sun Devils in D1 baseball.

The Vancouver, B.C. product made one appearance in Rookie ball before the season came to a close, but after a solid season with Central Arizona, he didn’t see much game action until this year.

Nicknamed “Tugboat” by family friend Phil McNeil for the way he rounded the bases during his tee-ball days, the 21-year-old left-hander began the 2024 season in Single-A. Yet, after a dominant stretch through the first month and a half of the season, Wilkinson has already been promoted to High-A as he searches for tougher competition.

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A Strong Start at Single-A

With the Single-A Lynchburg Hillcats, Matt Wilkinson was carving up opponents almost every game. He didn’t allow an earned run until his third start of the year and struck out 41 batters through the end of April, including a 15-strikeout affair in which he didn’t allow a hit through six innings. He finished the month with a 0.44 ERA.

In May, opposing hitters started to figure Wilkinson out a bit more, as the southpaw allowed four earned runs across 19 2/3 innings with Lynchburg. Still, he was fooling hitters on the mound, posting 30 strikeouts to just three walks; the B.C. product did not allow a free pass in his final three outings with the Hillcats. He also struck out eight or more batters in each of those three starts, never giving up more than six hits in a game.

Following his start on May 19, the Guardians promoted Wilkinson to High-A, where he joins the Lake County Captains and fellow Canucks Adam Tulloch (LHP) and Zac Fascia (C).

Matt Wilkinson’s High-A Debut

On May 25, Wilkinson made his debut for the Captains against the West Michigan Whitecaps (Detroit Tigers affiliate) and started the day the way he knows best – striking out the first batter he saw in Seth Stephenson.

After a clean first inning, Roberto Campos scorched a ball to left-center field for a solo home run, and a couple of hits in the third inning would add two more runs to Wilkinson’s line. It was new territory for Wilkinson after such a hot start to the season.

He would pitch a clean fourth inning and strike out the side in the fifth before getting pulled, allowing four hits and three earned runs on the day. Still, he struck out eight batters, carrying his high strikeout ways with him to the next level.

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Wilkinson generated 20 whiffs on the day and seven of his eight K’s were either via foul tip or a strikeout swinging, as the southpaw was able to keep hitters off balance at times through his first start.

Across both minor league levels this season, Wilkinson owns a 15.12 K/9 and has impressed with his command, allowing just nine walks through 45 1/3 innings. He earned Minor League Player of the Month honors in the Carolina League in April, and his ability to strike out batters at such a high clip has earned him attention across the league.

While Matt Wilkinson doesn’t rank among the Guardians’ top 30 prospects right now (per MLB Pipeline), it is safe to say that “Tugboat” is taking the world by storm – one strikeout at a time.