When the Yankees announced the signing of minor league free agent outfielder David Winfree last week it hardly seemed like big news. Especially considering the fact that their triple-A affiliate lost all three of their starting outfielders this offseason, Austin Jackson, Shelley Duncan, and John Rodriguez, it seemed like more of a move for Scranton than for the Bronx.
But former scout and current AOL Fanhouse writer Frankie Piliere warns that Winfree’s talent should not be overlooked:
“Scouted Winfree in (spring training) actually,” Piliere wrote in an email to Chad Jennings of the Journal News. “There’s a lot to like there. I’m surprised he was out there, didn’t realize he was. I think he needs to be viewed as a prospect. Above average arm and I think the power plays at the next level. He’s still mainly dead red on the fastball. I’d like to see if he can make enough consistent contact at AAA. If he can he has the power to be a big league contributor. At least a guy worth watching, but obviously as a free agent there are warts. You gotta like getting a guy that’s still pretty young with very good game usable power though. I think it’s a nice pickup.”
Piliere is right, typically minor league free agents are more similar to one like John Rodriguez – a guy who hasn’t been lights out enough to stick with one organization and is probably closer to 30 than 20. Winfree is 23 meaning he potentially has enough time to fix some of the bad habits that have kept him from the majors.
That’s where the warts that Piliere spoke of come in. The first he mentions is his tendency to look for fastballs and the other is lack of patience at the plate, Winfree has a .318 career OBP in the minor leagues. The good news is the first should be fixable because of his age. At 23 there is still time for him to make adjustments to hitting breaking balls and improve his pitch recognition.
The problem could be with his lack of patience. The problem here is this seems to be something that is developed much earlier. Kevin Youkilis was tagged with the nickname “The Greek God of Walks” before he even came close to reaching the majors. It is also rare to see ball players who become more patient as their careers go by. It is possible to become more patient, but the change rarely of large significance.
Winfree has a very small likelihood of making the Yankees out of spring training even if Jamie Hoffmann goes back to the Dodgers. Two things to keep an eye on during the season to see if he becomes a legit contender to be a mid-season call-up will be his batting average and his on-base percentage. If he can improve those there may be a spot for him in the Bronx.