The 2018 San Diego Padres may have a pretty good bullpen.
Brad Hand has been a revelation ever since he came to San Diego, Phil Maton and Kyle McGrath looked promising in their debuts, and Kirby Yates and Buddy Baumann were also solid finds. However the team has lost a key cog in their bullpen in Craig Stammen (the jury is still out on if he will come back) and may lose another if the Padres play their Hand and send him off to a contender for more prospects (pun fully intended).
This may not hurt so much as the Padres have a lot of pitching depth in the lower ranks, and while everyone hypes up starters such as Cal Quantrill and Mackenzie Gore, some people forget that the Padres have many intriguing relief prospects that are flying under the radar.
Enter Trey Wingenter. Wingenter is a 23-year-old reliever who was drafted by the Padres in the 17th round in the 2015 MLB Draft out of Auburn University. He had made it to the NCAA Tournament with the Tigers, but they were quickly eliminated in the first round. The right-handed pitcher spent the 2016 year blazing through Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore, and was pushed to Double-A San Antonio in 2017, where he earned 20 saves in 47.2 innings while striking out 64 batters.
He has an effective slider, but has a fastball in the upper 90’s that he uses to blow batters away. Wingenter may not be seen by Padres fans until late 2018 at the earliest, but he is one to keep an eye out for. Listed below are some positives and negatives about him.
Bruce Springsteen’s song, “Glory Days”, has a line discussing his friend who played baseball. His friend was clearly a pitcher as he is described as someone who could “throw that speedball by you” and “make you look like a fool boy”. Unbeknownst to Springsteen, he accurately describes Wingenter in his song. While Wingenter doesn’t have the amazing spin rate that someone like Maton does, nor does he have a funky delivery that adds deception to his pitch like McGrath, he does pack some extra mustard when he throws his speedball by a batter.
Wingenter is a burner on the mound. He was touching 95 mph when he was drafted and can now gear it up to 100 mph while sitting comfortably at 95 mph. After taking time in the offseason to let his arm rest, Wingenter came back in spring training and bumped up his velocity with the help of some strength and conditioning coaches and was assigned to Double-A San Antonio to prove himself.
And prove himself he did. Wingenter had a 2.54 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP while striking out 64 batters against 19 walks. He led a San Antonio bullpen that included the likes of T.J. Weir, Jose Castillo, and Brad Wieck, while making it to the Texas League Division Series. In that span of time, Wingenter had a K/9 rating of 12.5 and a BB/9 of 3.6.
Wingenter has already had amazing success. He has been named an MiLB All Star in the Texas League and has already had a taste of the playoffs. By the way, he is going to be 24 in April, so he hasn’t even come close to reaching his full potential.
Wingenter is just one of the many exciting young relievers the Padres have in their system. Wieck and Castillo will have the chance to prove themselves in spring training after being added to the 40-man roster. They are 21 and 26, respectively. Maton is at the age of 24 and McGrath is currently 25. Add that with Jose Torres (24) and Hand (27), and Wingenter would fit right in with the current youth the Padres have in the majors at the moment.
Add this to the fact that Wingenter has had all of this success and he hasn’t even hit his prime yet. A player is considered to be in their prime when they hit age 26, so for him to have this success shows that he has the potential to be a force to be reckoned with out of the bullpen, perhaps even becoming the Padres closer of the future. However, this does lead to one of his biggest flaws.
No experience above Double-A
Yes, Wingenter has had a lot of success. His fastball also looks promising. However, all of this has come in the lower levels of the minors and Double-A. None of this success has come at Triple-A El Paso, which takes place in the Pacific Coast League. For those who don’t know, the PCL is known for being incredibly hitter-friendly thanks to many of its stadiums being located in high elevation cities. So pitching there is like pitching in Coors Field every night.
Also, the hitters are much more experienced. Top hitting prospects and fringe MLB players all make their way here at one point or another, and Wingenter has not faced many in San Antonio. Brad Wieck is one player who dominated in Double-A before getting scorched in Triple-A. Sure he only pitched seven innings, but it goes to show that hitters thrive in the PCL. If you are a young pitcher looking to make it in the back-end of a major league bullpen, the PCL is like baptism by fire.
Wingenter has an outside chance to get an invite to spring training, but from the looks of it, he may end up in Triple-A. This is where we will get to see the real Trey Wingenter. Will he continue to dominate hitters? Or will he be overcome by the challenges of the PCL? Only time will tell.
Trey Wingenter has the chance to be a special reliever for the Padres. His fastball has done nothing but dominate hitters and he has piled up some rather impressive numbers. He should find his way to the majors at some point in his career. However, he has had no prior experience at the next level and has only pitched up to Double-A, so he may have to wait a little bit longer to join the big league squad. His talent and success are certainly appealing and he is one person to keep an eye on in the future.