This week, I had the opportunity to talk to MLB pitcher Dan Winkler.
Winkler was selected in the 20th round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Colorado Rockies after attending UCF.
Winkler played in the Rockies’ farm system through 2014. In June of 2014, Winkler underwent Tommy John surgery, placing him out for the season. Before the 2015 season, Winkler was selected in the Rule 5 Draft by the Atlanta Braves, immediately placing him on the 40-man roster.
He made his debut in September of 2015. Winkler then fractured his elbow in April of 2016, forcing him to miss the rest of the 2016 season. Winkler had not filled the service time required for a Rule 5 draftee, and as a result, missed the 2017 season. In 2018, the Braves signed Winkler to a one-year contract.
In 2019, Winkler was traded to the Giants, but was designated for assignment the next day and became a free agent. Winkler signed with the Cubs shortly after and played with them for two seasons. In 2021, the Cubs released Winkler. In 2022, Winkler signed a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers. He is currently on their Triple-A team the Round Rock Express.
In Winkler’s major league career he has only appeared in relief. He is 9-5 with a 3.98 ERA, 1.276 WHIP, and a 9.8 K/9.
Winkler’s pitch repertoire consists of a low-90s cutter (66.6%), a mid-90s fastball (19.9%), a low-80s curveball (7.1%), and a low-90s sinker (6.4%).
I talked to Winkler about his experiences as a pitcher in the major leagues.
Here’s the interview:
Q: What is the biggest thing you have to overcome as a late-round pick? As opposed to being an early pick?
A: The biggest thing about overcoming being a late-round pick was just making the most of the opportunity. I know everyone needs to make the most of their opportunities in baseball, but as a late rounder, you typically get a lot less. But being a late-round pick was the best thing for me. I was extremely motivated to prove that I belonged in the big leagues and that my draft selection was no indication of my talent level.
Q: What’s the feeling of being drafted in the Rule 5 draft? You go straight to the top. Talk to me about the process and your emotions throughout.
A: I was working out at my old junior college when I found out I got taken in the Rule 5 draft. I still honestly cannot put into words the feeling of that day and those emotions. Especially after I tore my UCL a few months before being selected. It was life-changing and life-altering for me and my family. I remember just stopping my workout and driving straight home to give my wife a huge hug and celebrate. We shared a lot of joyful tears that day!
Q: Age 32 is the back half of a professional career. What is your mentality and goals going forward to get back to the majors?
I would say my mentality now at the back half of my career is pretty much the same as it always has been. I think I still have a lot of juice left in the tank, and feel my stuff is probably better than it ever has been. I am focused on helping whatever team I’m on, to win baseball games and I am also focused on getting back to being a guy at the back end of a bullpen somewhere in the big leagues.
Q: You’re a veteran. What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give/currently give younger ballplayers?
A: Some of the best advice I’ve been given and advice I try to share with all younger ballplayers is to listen to your coaches and take something from what they have to offer. Everyone offers their own unique wisdom, something we all can learn from. And though you may not resonate with all of what they’re teaching, or even most of it, there’s always something you can learn. Throughout my career, I took things from all of my coaches, teammates, and front office people and kind of molded their wisdom into my own. While there is still so much more for me to learn, I’ll never write someone off as if they can’t teach me something and that’s the best advice I think I could give to a younger player/person in life in general.
Q: You have a family. How does the lifestyle in the minors differ from the majors in terms of family time, pay, etc?
A: Lifestyles between the big leagues and the minor leagues can be drastically different, but I think there are so many positives in both. Traveling is much easier in the big leagues, and so is the food, and ballparks. But In AAA I think there’s beauty in a bunch of dudes just trying to either a) realize a lifelong dream or b) prove themselves to get back to the MLB level. Plus there are a lot of sneaky good cities in the minor leagues in general. Family wise though things aren’t that different. The only difference is the kids get to play on Dell Diamonds field [home stadium of the Round Rock Express, the Triple-A Minor League Baseball affiliate of the Texas Rangers] in a Sunday day game instead of Wrigley Field haha. I’m just blessed to still be playing this game as long as I have and will do my best to get outs no matter where I am.