MESA, Ariz.–Standing in a hallway at HoHoKam Park on Monday morning, a candid David Winfree wanted to say that he wished he had not left the Twins organization for two months early this season. But it just was not the truth.
Winfree, a big man with a power bat, said getting away early this in the season helped him refocus and recommit to a sport that he realized he loved and missed while he was back home–still working out, still hitting every day–in Virginia Beach, Va.
“It was a weird situation. My confidence . . . it was like everything was leaving me,” Winfree said. “I talked to a lot of people while I was away. Do I know this (baseball) is what I am supposed to be doing? I came to know this was what I was supposed to be doing. Once I got back, I knew that was where I was supposed to be.”
Winfree, 21, was the Twins’™ minor league player of the year in 2005 after hitting .294/329/.452 with 16 homers and 101 RBIs, plus 31 doubles at low Class A Beloit. But offseason right shoulder surgery had him feeling not quite right in spring training and may have contributed to a feeling of uncertainty.
“I probably came back a little too early,” he said. “My arm still bothered me a little, and I think that kind of led up to a lot of it. Am I healthy? Am I this? Am I that? The Twins were great with that. The patience they had with me going away and coming back, and still believing in me. Once I got back, it felt great. And then you start putting up a little numbers . . .
“The way I have to look at it is, I am back on the field playing baseball, doing what I love. You are getting paid to play baseball. It’™s not that hard, you know? I love going out there every day and just being with the guys on the field.”
A corner infielder with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League, Winfree played six games as a DH at high Class A Fort Myers to start the 2006 season and played four rehab games in extended spring training before requesting a leave of absence. When he came back in late June, assigned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, he showed little rust. He joined Fort Myers on July 1 and hit .276/.328/.490 overall with 13 homers and 48 RBIs.
“I think I put too much pressure on myself sometimes, because I want to compete so much and I want it so bad,” said Winfree, 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. “Everything in the minor leagues is a learning process. It’™s tough to see it’™s a learning process when you are struggling.
“I’™m not a perfectionist, but if you want it so bad, it can come back and haunt you and make you be too hard on yourself. It’™s tough to leave it at the field. That’™s what I’™m going to learn, just leave my cleats in my locker, shower up, do a little work out and go home. Whatever I had, I gave it on the field that day. That’™s one thing I need to work on, and I think most guys would admit to it, you worry too much. I worried too much.
“The time I took away, I felt better than I ever had coming back and I was able to put together a great half-season. I was pleased with that. Then when they had the confidence to send me out here, you couldn’™t ask for more than that.”
Winfree, a 13th-round pick out of First Colonial High in Virginia Beach in 2003, has the sort of big-time, righthanded power than has caught Mesa manager Pat Listach’™s attention.
“When he squares it up, the ball jumps off his bat,” Listach said. “He’™s a big, strong kid. He reminds me a little bit of (Michael) Cuddyer,” the Twins’™ starting right fielder who began his career as a third baseman.
Winfree made the big jump from A-ball to the Arizona Fall League and has not had an easy time, though a home run Monday improved his numbers to .193/.307/.421 with three homers and 16 RBIs. He’s sharing time at third base and first base with Cubs prospect Scott Moore and fellow Twins infielder Matt Moses.
“I came out here to get the experience,” Winfree said. “When I’™m not playing, I’™m trying to learn as much as I can from the guys, seeing the way they do things, picking up stuff. The numbers aren’™t what I would want, but I can’™t put that much into it.
“This is by far the best pitching I’™ve faced in my whole life. It’™s preparing me for next year. You have to learn from that. It’™s hard to say that when you are hitting .190, but I’™d much rather it be happening now. Everybody goes through streaks and stuff like that. It just seems like out here I’™ve fouled off every pitch that I usually hit hard.”
• Mesa lefthander Mark McLemore made a memorable debut, striking out eight of the nine batters he faced in three perfect innings during his first start of the season against Phoenix. The game was called at 5-5 after 11 innings because of the Robinson rule, the rule implemented by former AFL commissioner Frank Robinson to protect the league’™s pitchers. Phoenix first baseman Chip Cannon, the league’s hottest hitter and home run leader, was the only batter to put a ball in play, popping out to third base to open the second inning.
• Phoenix shortstop Ben Zobrist (Devil Rays), Scottsdale second baseman Kevin Frandsen (Giants), Peoria Saguaros infielder Chase Headley (Padres), Peoria Javelinas second baseman J.C. Holt (Braves), Mesa second baseman Matt Tolbert (Twins) and Grand Canyon righthander Jesse Ingram (Rangers) are the finalists for the third annual Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award, given to the Fall League who best exemplifies the qualities of discipline and diligence displayed by former Red Sox and Reds prospect Stenson, murdered while playing for Scottsdale in the 2003 season. Mark Teahen (Royals) and Andre Ethier (Dodgers) are the previous winners.
• Frandsen and Phoenix righthander Virgil Vasquez (Tigers) were the players of the week for Nov. 6-11. Frandsen, in line to replace Ray Durham as the Giants’ second baseman in 2007, was 12-for-21 with two homers and 10 RBIs last week to improve his league-leading batting average to .431. He was leading the league in on-base percentage (.518) and was second in slugging percentage (.653) entering the final four games of the regular season. Vasquez was 1-0 in two starts, giving up four hits in 11 innings. He’s had 24 scoreless innings since giving up nine hits and eight runs in his first start, which lasted just 1 2/3 innings. Overall, Vasquez is 2-1, 2.81 in a league-leading 25 2/3 innings, with a 19-5 strikeout-walk ratio.
• Phoenix outfielder Cody Strait (Reds) had a 10-game hitting streak broken last week. It was one game short of the league long set by Javelinas outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (Red Sox).
• Phoenix righthander Kyle Yates has a somewhat unorthodox delivery, but it has not hurt him in the Fall League. He is 2-0 with a league-leading 1.13 ERA while striking out 25 in 24 innings. He was 8-9, 3.44 at high Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire this season, his first step into AA.
• Scottsdale righthander Billy Sadler (Giants) is 2-0, 0.00 and has given up only one unearned run in his 11 appearances covering 13 innings. He has 20 strikeouts and four walks, and the league is hitting .113 against him. Sadler had 20 saves at Double-A Connecticut before advancing to both Triple-A Fresno and the parent Giants this season. He had 67 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings at Connecticut, where he gave up 23 hits but 29 walks.