After signing former Detroit Tigers top pitching prospect Andy Oliver just before the start of the season, the Tampa Bay Rays have inked another interesting potential bullpen arm. Right-hander Kyle Winkler was mentioned as a possible first round pick back in 2011 before he pitched while injured for Texas Christian University and needed surgery to repair a stress fracture in his elbow. He dropped to the 10th round of the draft, where the Arizona Diamondbacks signed him for $240,000, but he was released by the D-Backs this April before ending up with the Rays.
At his best, Winkler threw a fastball in the mid-90’s, a dynamic slider, and a solid changeup. His only real flaws were that he was a shorter pitcher at 5’11”, 205 and had some effort in his delivery. Even if he was not going to have the durability to be a starting pitcher, however, people still saw his stuff and believed he could become a dominant bullpen arm. Instead, Winkler has a 4.97 ERA in 224.2 minor league innings and has not yet reached Triple-A.
Winkler made his debut for the Montgomery Biscuits yesterday and struck out 2 in a scoreless inning of work. He still isn’t that old as he won’t turn 25 years of age until June 18th, and he is just slightly above the average age in the Southern League. Winkler still has time to get his career together, but the major question is where his stuff is at right now. He was still throwing in the mid-90’s in 2012, but he has disappeared from the prospect map since and we have to think that his stuff has taken a step back in recent years.
Even so, Winkler has missed bats everywhere he has gone in his professional career. He struck out 8.0 batters per 9 innings in each of the teams he has pitched for each season, even when he has struggled the most. His bigger issues have been a lack of control and occasionally command. His 8.9 career K/9 is fine, but his 4.4 BB/9 and 0.9 HR/9 are more concerning. In his first Double-A experience last year, he struck out 10.9 batters per 9 innings but allowed a 6.2 BB/9 and a 1.2 HR/9 in 29 innings pitched.
As the Rays sign Winkler, they must have an adjustment in mind to help him locate his pitches. He still has something going for him to produce all those strikeouts–presumably an effective secondary pitch or two–and if he has a better idea of where his fastball is going, that could be enough for him to be an effective middle reliever. Another good sign is that despite his inconsistency, Winkler has an 8.7 K/9 and a 3.6 BB/9 in his career against right-handed batters. Even though he isn’t the pitcher he once was, he retains some ingredients for success at higher levels.
The Tampa Bay Rays are incurring no risk at all as they bring aboard Kyle Winkler. All he is receiving is a minor league salary and a Double-A roster spot, which are small prices to pay for a pitcher who still has some upside. It is unfortunate what happened to Winkler at TCU, but the Rays may be his best chance to deliver on a portion of the potential he once had. His Biscuits debut went quite well, and hopefully other strong appearances are on the way.
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