In his three years on campus at Auburn, right-handed pitcher Trey Wingenter worked in virtually every role possible. While he always had solid strikeout and walk numbers, he was often too hittable, yielding well over a hit an inning.
But the big man offered a lot to like, and the Padres selected him in the 16th round of last summer’s draft. His professional debut was an abbreviated one, and his velocity lagged a bit.
This spring, the Alabama native came back looking like a real force, using a four-seam fastball that can touch 98 with a lot of movement because of his arm slot, and an impressive slider. He’s also been working on a change-up in bullpens that has much of the instruction and catching staff talking, but was just starting to break it out in games when I caught up with him in Fort Wayne.
While he opened the year in extended spring training, he joined the TinCaps in early May and blew through his assignment there, striking out 14 and allowing just one earned run in 11 innings. It was a strong enough showing that he was promoted to Lake Elsinore the day after we talked.
For a guy who didn’t break camp, you’re making it look pretty easy right now. Talk me through the path since spring training?
Trey Wingenter: Really, the biggest thing for me was getting to put the ball down after going through the whole college grind, pitching the season, then pitching Cape Cod or wherever each year, and then right back to fall ball, you’re stopping and going and it’s hard on the arm and hard on the body. So getting through that first short-season and getting to put the ball down for a couple of months and just let my body completely recover before I built it back up was the biggest thing for me.
Right after instructs, I got to put the ball down until the throwing program started in December.
You had an inning early in spring training against Tijuana where you were out there, and it was obvious that a bunch of the staff were seeing someone different than they had last year. Did you feel that as well?
Trey Wingenter: This is always how I thought of myself, and I’ve known this is the kind of pitcher I am. And whether it’s been getting held back by a little arm trouble here, or something’s not working in my mechanics, I knew that I was capable of figuring it out, and capable of a lot more than I was doing at the time. When I came in feeling good in spring training, I knew that this was more myself and it’s been nice.
With your size, is it harder to find the feel when you get the ball back in your hand after that layoff?
Trey Wingenter: That’s been something I’ve been talking with other guys and the coordinators about, and the consensus is for tall guys, it’s just a little harder to develop that muscle memory and repeat that delivery just because there’s a little more going on. It’s a trade-off, because taller guys can get more tilt and a couple other advantages, but being that the delivery is important for command, that’s something that myself and a bunch of other tall pitchers struggle with.
As a guy who was on Perfect Game watch lists and all the rest in high school, what did you take out of the college experience in Auburn rather than just jumping into professional ball.
Trey Wingenter: Really, it was tough. It really came down to what I felt the value of the college experience was compared to going in the draft. It was an awesome experience. I got to go to Auburn, a place I always wanted to go and played for a few different coaches and got to experience pitching in all sorts of different roles. It was a great experience and it’s a place I’ll always go back to and really love, so I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
It seems like you missed the memo on being a dumb jock down there. What was your major there?
Trey Wingenter: I was in industrial engineering.
That’s a serious workload.
Trey Wingenter: Yeah, and I really started feeling it my junior year, especially during baseball season. It was probably time to take a break. I’ll definitely go back and finish it, but it’s nice to take a break a little bit.
With your spring training experience and now with Burt and the coordinators around a lot out here, how do you balance taking in a lot of different information and ideas from those guys with staying with what you know of your own game?
Trey Wingenter: It’s definitely something that takes a while to figure out because you’ve got a lot of guys who are doing their best to try to help you and give you bits of information. Eventually, you start to learn what works for you. You need to list to everything, of course, but you start to learn what things click for you and you start to run with it. You can never learn enough, and you’re never going to know everything, and these guys know so much more than I do, so you just try to take it and apply it to your game.
Obviously, your pitches have a huge amount of movement. Are there times where that gets in the way for you a little bit?
Trey Wingenter: It can a little bit at times. You just do the best you can, attack with your pitches in the zone and with everything you’ve got. You can’t be afraid to let it move and to throw balls, so really just attack with every pitch. Really, once I’ve released the ball, I can’t control it until I get it back again.
Is the change-up something you threw much before you came into the system?
Trey Wingenter: The change is something I’ve always had a pretty good feel for. Coming out of the bullpen, sometimes you’re just going hard fastball, hard slider, just trying to put guys away and get outs in big situations. But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to bring the change back out and it’s been good for me. It’s definitely a pitch I’ve always felt comfortable throwing, maybe it’s just my arm slot that makes it easy to have it come out.
You mentioned throwing in different roles in school. How does the work in the bullpen feel for you?
Trey Wingenter: Obviously, every role is different and there are pluses and minuses of it. But the bullpen is fun, especially late in the game when you get to come in in the big situations. That’s what’s fun about baseball, is coming in with the game on the line and trying to win one for the team.
When you didn’t make a roster out of spring training this year, did Mark Prior or one of the other coordinators talk with you about it?
Trey Wingenter: I talked with all of them and Sam [Geaney] about it at the same time. They just said you had a great spring, you’re not going to break with a team, but keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be up with a team quickly. I threw well all spring, so you just stick with what you’re doing.
How did you try to keep your rhythm and pacing while you were in extended where there’s not really the game routine driving it?
Trey Wingenter: The difference is the adrenaline, the game-on-the-line feel you don’t have as much down there. But it’s the same in the sense that you’ve got your daily routine that you’ve got stick to and you’ve got to approach each day trying to get better. And you can’t really think too far ahead, you’ve got to focus on what’s on your plate right then and then you can move on to the next thing. You can treat that the same down there.
When you did get promoted, you headed out to Elsinore for a few outings. How was that experience for you?
Trey Wingenter: It was fun. Obviously, you’re going to be a little nervous, but it was a good nervous I thought. I felt pretty comfortable, especially after you see your first pitch, first strike, everything settles down and it’s just baseball again. But it was nice pitching in front of a crowd and in a real game.
I saw you working on some long toss with Jerry Keel on your off-day. Is that something you’ve always done as part of your routine?
Trey Wingenter: It’s something that he and I and a few other guys on the team like to do when you get a day where you feel fresh, we’ll stretch it out for a little more extended catch and then throw a few hard ones on the way in and get a good workout in. Because [in the bullpen] you never know when you’re going to be up, so when you can get some good work in, we like to do that.
I’m guessing there aren’t many places that you don’t line up as the tallest guy in a room, but when you look at the rest of your draft class last year, there are some big boys in that group. Is there a benefit to you to having other tall guys around?
Trey Wingenter: Definitely. When you get with another tall guy, they just understand. They’ve had, probably, the same kind of mechanical struggles and trying to be consistent. Guys of the same size and same build share some of the same experiences - same plus sides and struggles – so it’s good to bounce ideas off each other, see what works for them, and take pieces from other players.