Andy Wilkins’ International League-leading 29th home run of the season was a no-doubter from the moment it left the bat.
The long ball – which was one of Charlotte’s season-high 21 hits and gave the team a four-run edge in the fourth inning – helped propel the Knights and starter Chien-Ming Wang (4-3) to a 17-4 win over the Gwinnett Braves in front of 9,409 fans on Monday at BB&T BallPark.
The blast also severed as a reminder of the kind of season Wilkins – who finished the night 3-for-6, with a double, five RBIs and three runs scored – has put together.
With 13 games remaining (seven at home), Charlotte’s 6-foot-1-inch left-handed hitting first baseman has – quietly – made a legitimate case to become the International League’s Most Valuable Player.
Wilkins, 25, leads the IL in home runs (29), total bases (260), extra-base hits (65) and RBIs (82). He’s second in doubles (35), slugging percentage (.573) and third in runs scored (77).
“My wife said something (about me being MVP), but I don’t even know how it all works,” Wilkins said. “It really hasn’t been anything I’ve really thought about. It’d be and honor. I don’t know if it’s all hit me yet. I’m just enjoying the season and the ride so far.”
His 136 hits – which rank fourth – are one shy of his career high set in 2009 with Class A Winston-Salem.
What makes Wilkins’ contention for the award unusual is that the Tulsa, Okla., native was not named a mid-season All-Star after his batting average – now .300 – hovered below the Mendoza line for the first two and a half months of the season.
“Wilkins has been good,” Knights manager Joel Skinner said. “He just got off to a slow start. It’s just all-good company when you’re talking about those guys. He’s been the MVP of our team from a standpoint of just pure numbers.”
Wilkins’ chief competition for the award will likely come from Syracuse outfielder (and Washington Nationals’ No. 10 prospect entering this season) Steven Souza Jr., whose .354 batting average currently leads the league.
Souza, who has 18 home runs (tied for fifth), is pacing the league in on-base percentage (.435) and slugging percentage (.601).
The most damning case against Wilkins might be the Knights’ 58-73 record, which is made all the more glaring when it’s compared with the Chiefs’ IL-best mark of 74-53.
Just prior to Monday’s game, the Knights recognized Wilkins, who won the IL’s Player of the Month award in July, with an on-field ceremony.
There he was presented with the award, which had arrived from the league offices during Charlotte’s recent road trip.
“It was awesome,” Wilkins said. “It was a great honor and it’s something that I’ll never forget.”
There’s a real possibility Monday’s award won’t be the last Wilkins receives.
The last – and only – Charlotte Knight to ever win IL MVP was Jim Thome in 1994.
Greensboro 14, Kannapolis 2: Three Grasshoppers doubled during a 6-run second inning in which host Greensboro sent 10 batters to the plate to dismantle the Intimidators.
Hickory 7, Delmarva 2: The host Crawdads got all the runs they needed in a 5-run first inning, ignited when Ronald Guzman singled to score Michael De Leon scores to top the Shorebirds.
KNIGHTS 17, BRAVES 4
Monday’s box score
E — Reyes, Constanza. LOB–Gwinnett 6, Charlotte 9. 2B–Constanza, Sanchez 2, Semien, Martinez, Reyes, Wilkins, Gonzalez. HR—Terdoslavich, Wilkins, Tuiasosopo, Murphy. SB–Constanza. CS—Mitchell, Constanza.
|Simmons L, 0-1||0.0||2||4||4||2||0|
|Wang W, 12-8||7.0||9||3||3||0||5|
HBP-Richmond (by Northcraft).
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