Josh Winder: Clean Room, Clear Head, And a New Change-up
Image courtesy of Steve Buhr (photo of Josh Winder)“I kind of like cleaning my room,” Winder explained in an interview a day after his most recent start (a seven-inning/seven-strikeout outing on Sunday in which he held Peoria to one earned run on four hits and one walk). “Making sure everything’s in order, kind of clearing my mind out while I’m doing it. Kind of therapeutic almost. I like laying everything out before my start, getting into that mindset on the day of my start, as opposed to going to the game kind of scatterbrained.”
That may seem unusual, but then Winder didn’t come to professional baseball via quite the same path as most other college pitchers. When you consider that the Twins drafted him in the seventh round of last June’s amateur draft out of Virginia Military Institute, a habit of cleaning his room shouldn’t be unexpected at all.
Winder admits he didn’t choose to attend VMI with the goal of a military career in mind, but primarily to play baseball and get a good education. (He accomplished both, by the way. After last season ended, he returned to school and got his degree in Economics and Business in December.)
So how does a guy without a definitive interest in the military end up at Virginia Military Institute? Of course, the obvious answer is that they offered him a baseball scholarship, but there must be more to it than that.
“It’s actually a funny story,” the 6’ 5” right-hander said. “We played a travel ball showcase tournament up there. I remember saying to my dad when we were driving away from the campus, ‘I have no idea why anybody would ever come here.’ A couple years later, I ended up going on a visit there.
“The coaches saw me at a camp and liked my stuff, liked the way I pitched and everything. They got me on campus, showed me around. Really sold me on all the benefits of the place, all the good attributes and traits you acquire, almost by default, by being around that kind of environment.
“Also, I fell in love with the coaching staff and fell in love with the atmosphere, the brotherhood and camaraderie in the locker room. It was something I really wanted to be a part of, and I made that decision, committed in my junior year and honestly, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t make that decision because it ended up being the best place for me.”
It was certainly a more structured and disciplined environment than most college campuses and it had immediate effects on Winder.
“It kind of changes you without you even realizing it,” he explained. “I remember going home for Christmas break my freshman year. Once I got home, I probably slept the whole first day because I was exhausted. But then after that, I’m cleaning my room, making my bed, kind of like setting out each day and making plans, not even realizing it had changed me into (being) much more disciplined, more on top of things. Planning things out.”
Asked if his mother wondered who this stranger was and what he had done with her son, Winder didn’t hesitate.
“She wasn’t complaining,” he said. “I was folding all the laundry. Yeah, she wasn’t too upset about it.”
On the mound this season, Winder has been working with Kernels pitching coach Virgil Vasquez to rediscover the secrets of how to consistently miss bats and felt that Sunday’s outing might have been his best of the season.
“Really good game (Sunday). That’s probably the best I’ve felt on the mound this year,” Winder said. “I’ve kind of been searching for that feeling and really feeling like I can beat guys and get the swings I wanted.”
After notching nine strikeouts in a five-inning outing on April 13 against Burlington, the record holder for strikeouts per nine-innings at VMI failed to average a strikeout per inning pitched over his next five starts leading into Sunday’s performance, though most of his other stats were more than acceptable. In fact, in three of his four starts during May, Winder completed seven or more innings of work.
“Definitely been very efficient the last few weeks, getting ahead,” he said. “Been working really well with my catchers.”
As for the strikeouts…
“I’ve been kind of struggling to put guys away,” he conceded. “Haven’t struggled to get to two strikes, but as far as striking people out and putting them away, I’ve kind of struggled. That’s something me and Virgil worked on this week and obviously the work paid off. Seven strikeouts yesterday, so we did a much better job kind of throwing pitches in tougher places to hit with two strikes.”
Winder has an effective three-pitch repertoire and his primary focus this spring has been to add a more effective change-up to the mix.
“I actually went down to Florida a month early for spring training to work on that change-up,” he said. “Work on that grip and (develop) a consistent pitch for me to add to my curveball. And then I have a cutter-slider, as well, in addition to the four-seam fastball.
“So, we’re looking to develop that change-up to keep lefties off balance as well as throw it to righties some the second or third time through the lineup. Get them off my fastball. Just get something else in their head. Keep them off balance, so it complements all my other pitches.”
At times, pitchers coming out of college programs get anxious to move up the organizational ladder quickly, but Winder’s not about to be putting that kind of pressure on himself.
“No, I really try to stay away from thinking like that,” he said. “It’s still my first full professional season.
“My mindset going through this whole journey, this whole process, started last year when I was a junior and got drafted, decided to take the draft instead of going back to school. I just try to approach everything to become the best baseball player I can be and once I become the best baseball player I can be, I’ll see where I end up.”
Since returning from their road trip to the Midwest League’s Eastern Division on May 11, the Kernels have posted a 10-5 record and have moved up to 5th place in the MWL Western Division. They’ve also evened their record on the year at 25-25. They still stand 8 ½ games behind Division leading Quad Cities, but only 3 ½ games behind second place Burlington for the all-important second spot in the first half race, which also qualifies for the postseason.
Wander Javier, ranked as the Twins’ #4 prospect by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, joined the Kernels from Extended Spring Training on Saturday. The local fans haven’t had much of an opportunity to see him, yet, however. He played Saturday night, sat out Sunday’s game and Monday’s holiday matinee was rained out. The Kernels now begin a season-long 14 game road trip (while their home, Veteran’s Memorial Stadium, plays host to the NCAA Division III World Series).
Jared Akins arrived from EST on May 14 and went 0-3 in his first game. He hasn’t been held hitless since and now holds an 11-game hitting streak in which he has hit .419 with three doubles, two triples and four home runs. The streak is the longest of Akins’ career and the longest of any Kernels hitter this season.
Andrew Bechtold has a streak of his own going on. He’s reached base in 17 straight games, going back to May 9. He’s hitting .333 in his last ten games and went 6-10 during the three-game series with Peoria over the weekend.
Yeltsin Encarnacion has been hitting .318 in his last ten games, bringing his average for the year up to .270 and his OBP to .343.
Austin Schulfer and Jose Martinez combined to throw a no-hitter against Burlington on May 22 in the seven-inning nightcap of that day’s doubleheader. In Schulfer’s prior appearance, he struck out eight batters in three innings of relief work.
Blayne Enlow held opponents to just three earned runs over a combined 18 innings of work in his last three starts, earning himself a promotion to Fort Myers.
Reliever Zach Neff has allowed just two earned runs over 17 innings of work covering his last eight appearances. He has a 24/5 K/BB ratio in that stretch, including a 7K 3-inning performance on May 17.
Derek Molina had a tough first couple of relief appearances to start 2019, but in the ten appearances since then, he’s surrendered a grand total of one earned run, striking out 18 in 13 innings of work.
If you’d like to read more about the Kernels, check out these articles from The Gazette’s beat reporter Jeff Johnson:
- Emphatically Back to Break-Even for Cedar Rapids Kernels
- Jared Akins Just Keeps Raking
- Zach Neff - One Class Shy of Masters Degree
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