This past Friday, I had the chance to chat with former Twins, Yankees, and Angels catcher Butch Wynegar, Wynegar is entering his seventh season as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hitting coach, and after spending all of 2012 on the road, he can’t wait to get back to the newly renovated PNC Field.
Andrew Kappes: You made your first All-Star team as a rookie. That must have been quite the experience for you.
Butch Wynegar: That whole season was something I never expected, I just finished High-A ball the year before. Gene Mauch had them invite me to spring training. I never in a million years would’ve fathomed I could even make the club out of spring training.
A.K.: How big of an achievement was it for you to wear the Yankee pinstripes?
B.W.: I played with a lot of good ball players during my time with the Yankees. Our pitching struggled, we were in a lot of 8-7 games, but I grew up a Yankee fan. I knew I was going to be traded by the Twins. They were trying to dump salary, but I thought I was going to Cleveland, then I was told I was going to New York. I was like you got to be kidding me. That was a dream, to wear pinstripes after growing up a Yankee fan. I stood in the mirror for 15 minutes just to admire myself in Yankee pinstripes. Those are five years I’d never give back.
A.K.: You had a lot of memorable moments in your career. Two that really standout are Phil Niekro’s 300th win and 3,000th strikeout. Those had to be some incredible moments.
B.W.: I took a phone call during winter from the Yankees, and they asked me if I ever caught a knuckleballer. I said no, and they asked if I was willing to try, and I said sure, but who we looking at? They said Phil Niekro. I became Phil’s personal catcher, whenever he threw I caught him. Looking back on it, it was fun. I caught him for two, maybe three years, There were some hairy moments catching it, but it was fun. His 300th win came against Toronto. He had a dream about pitching without his knuckleball. That morning, he called me over to his locker and said, “Butch, today’s the day.” I thought he was talking about his 300th win, but he said, “No not that, I’m going to win my 300th game without my knuckleball.” I said, “Are you serious?” He warmed up, and never threw a knuckle. The whole game, he threw little sinkers, little curveballs, but no knuckles. We got to the ninth inning with a big lead, he had them off-balance without the knuckle. Then he called me out to the mound and said, “Butch I got 299 life-time wins with my knuckleball, lets finish it off with a knuckleball.” He struck Jeff Burroughs out with three straight knuckles without throwing one the whole day. Not a lot of guys have caught a 300th win, I’m proud of that moment.
A.K.: How frustrating have the injuries in the big league camp been?
B.W.: It’s been difficult. The guys that have gotten hurt, not to mention guys we lost to free agency. But (Derek) Jeter is on track, he’ll be playing first game shortly. I hate to use the term devastating, but it is going to give other guys opportunities. Hopefully they get back in the time period they’re talking about, and until then, we can hang tight in that first month. Our pitching looks strong, the bullpen looks strong, hopefully they can carry us in a tough division. When your GM breaks his leg, you know things aren’t going well.”
A.K.: With the injuries at the big league level, that’s opened up some doors for some guys to make impressions in big league camp. What are your thoughts on the likes of Melky Mesa, Zoilo Almonte, Corban Joseph, Luke Murton, and David Adams?
B.W.: With what I’ve seen and what I’ve heard, Melky might be one of the front runners to make the team. He’s got a good arm, can go get them, and runs well, real lively juice in his bat. He’s still a young type of hitter, he strikes out a lot, sometimes he over swings but Melky has a real good chance of making club, but there’s a lot to be done in the next three weeks.
On Zoilo Almonte: He’s a big strong, a bit of a dark horse to make the team, but if he got hit, he might get looked at. Zoilo is a guy that I didn’t really know much about until last spring training. He had a great camp last year, he’s a hard working kid, and he’s had a pretty good spring so far this year too. Being a switch-hitter, if he continues to swing the bat well, that could give them some flexibility.
On Corban Joseph: The kid can flat out hit. He’s a small kid, but has really good hands, good bat speed, but his downfall right now is defense. He lacks arm strength right now; they’re trying to play him at third base to get flexibility. He’s a hard worker, and I like him a lot.
On Luke Murton: He’s a big kid who had a real nice year in Double-A, he’s got tremendous power. Right now, we’re trying to get him to cut his movement at the plate, he’s got a lot going on with his stance, but he’s a smart kid. Very coachable, he’s trying to make adjustments.
On David Adams: If they haven’t seen him yet, fans are going to love watching David play. He’s a blue collar kid, he can hit and play solid defense. He’s a hardnosed guy who plays hard every night. The Yankees are real high on him; the injury bug has knocked him out of lineup. We got some good, home-grown kids coming up, and I’ve been very impressed with a lot of the younger guys.
A.K.: Last year, you guys were on the road for all 144 games. I’m sure you’re excited to get up here and into the new PNC Field.
B.W.: I love Scranton, this is my seventh year, and it’s a terrific place to play. Guys who played the year before understand how spoiled they were. I love our clubhouse, and as a hitting coach, I miss my cage. Last year, I had to share it with other teams. Luckily there are good coaches in the league and it wasn’t a problem, but we were spoiled having our own cages in Scranton. Now, I can’t wait to get there and see it. I’m excited to see the new facility.
Hiroki Kuroda dominated the St. Louis Cardinal offense, and the New York offense pushed across four runs on seven hits as the Yankees defeated the Cards, 4-0, on Monday afternoon. Kuroda tossed four scoreless innings, striking out six while only allowing three hits. His performance, added in with Mariano Rivera‘s this past weekend, has to give Yankee fans comfort. Adding to the positivity parade: C.C. Sabathia will make his spring debut this Friday.
Kevin Youkilis struggled his first couple weeks in Grapefruit League action, but the past couple games have proven much more fruitful for his bat. He hit a solo home run of St. Louis starter Lance Lynn in the fourth inning, and also added another RBI. Corban Joseph got the start at second base. He had two hits, and made a couple of fine defensive plays.
Ben Francisco was released by the Indians despite putting up good numbers this spring training. The Yankees quickly snapped him up, signing him to a minor league deal. Its not clear when Francisco will make his debut, but New York will take on the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday afternoon. Ivan Nova gets the start against Rays prospect Alex Cobb.
Tomorrow, I’ll be posting my interview with RailRiders’ hitting coach, Butch Wynegar. While his assessment of Yankees spring training proved very insightful, his story of catching the 300th win by Phil Niekro is fascinating. Look for it tomorrow morning here on Porcupines in Pinstripes and swbrailriders.com.
Today brings a combined spring training update as my fellow RailRiders staff and I were out at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Scranton all day yesterday. After weeks of bad news plaguing the Yankees, it seems things may be starting to turn the corner. Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera made their 2013 debuts in style on Saturday. Then on Sunday, the Yanks received a dominant start in a Grapefruit League victory.
On Saturday, Jeter batted first in the Yankee order and was the DH. He went 1-2, and had no complaints about his ankle after the game. Rivera was inserted into the game in the fifth, and retired the side in order with two strikeouts. Earlier in the day, he announced the 2013 season will be his last. Right-handed pitching prospect Jose Ramirez started Saturday’s game, and went four scoreless innings, conceding just one hit, while striking out four Atlanta Braves batters. All in all, Saturday was a great day for the Yankees despite the 2-1 loss.
On Sunday, David Phelps got the start against the Toronto Blue Jays, and it appears he’s getting stronger with each outing this spring. Phelps worked five shutout innings, allowing just three hits with a trio of strikeouts. Phelps’ spring earned run average sits at a tiny 0.64 mark. Vidal Nuno worked the final two and one-third innings for the Yankees, not allowing a run to reduce his spring ERA to just 1.23. Add in the four innings he tossed with the Dominican Republic, and Nuno’s ERA would be below one.
While the pitching staff shutout Toronto, the offense scratched across three runs on five hits. Three of those hits came from Juan Rivera, including a bases clearing double in the fifth that made the difference. There are a couple of ways Rivera could make the big league club, and he played first base this afternoon. His efforts raised his batting average to .346.
After throwing 50 pitches in a simulated game on Sunday morning, the Yankees announced that C.C. Sabathia will be making his 2013 debut on Friday. New York will now host the St. Louis Cardinals in Tampa on Monday afternoon. First pitch at George Steinbrenner Field is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.
The New York Yankees finally received some good news in the injury department on Thursday evening, as Derek Jeter was medically cleared to resume full baseball activities. Its not clear when Jeter will be ready to partake in Grapefruit League play, but he is expected to be in the lineup on Opening Day.
The Miami Marlins topped the Yankees in spring action this afternoon, 6-1. Adam Warren had his first rough outing of spring training, allowing four runs on six hits over four innings. Bullpen prospect Mark Montgomery tossed a scoreless seventh inning. Montgomery burst onto the scene last year, and is now a potential late-inning option in the Bronx as soon as 2014.
The Yankee offense struggled against Miami starter Nathan Eovaldi, who threw four innings, only allowing one run on four hits. Thomas Neal doubled home New York’s only run of the ballgame. Melky Mesa went 2-4 to raise his spring batting average to .261. Mesa’s outfield skills and quick bat have caught the attention of many in big league camp.
The Yankees will head back to Tampa on Saturday afternoon to take on the Atlanta Braves. First pitch against Atlanta is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.
Another Friday on the calendar before Opening Day, and you know what that means, another episode of Becoming a Ballpark! We can’t believe it’s already episode six, and in just under four weeks, we’ll be throwing out the first pitch at the newly renovated PNC Field.
In this week’s episode, we highlight the opportunity to purchase single-game tickets, which begins March 16. Cameron and I take a look inside the brand new box office, as well as giving you a look at the brand new (and huge) video board in left field, the progress of the bleachers, and the drink rails on the suite level.
A fresh blanket of snow has coated the field. As always, you can monitor the live progress at PNC Field here.
The New York Yankee offense came alive this afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals, but a ninth inning rally by the Cards stole the victory in Grapefruit League action. The Cardinals scored five runs in the final three innings, including two in the ninth, to take the win. The New York offense was able to smash out 11 hits, and score six runs.
11 different Yankee hitters recorded hits, including doubles by Chris Stewart, Addison Maruszak, and J.R. Murphy. Catching prospect Austin Romine came off the bench for an RBI base-hit. Ichiro Suzuki continued his hot hitting with a single of his own, he’s now hitting .412 for the spring.
Ivan Nova was sharp in his second outing of the spring. He went three innings, allowing one run on three hits, striking out two Cardinal batters. Brett Marshall, the Yankees’ sixth best prospect as rated by Baseball America, entered the game in the fourth and was solid for his first three innings of work. Before the seventh, Marshall had allowed just one run on two hits, but Daniel Descalso hit a two-run home run off of him in the seventh to tie the game.
The Yankees will now match up with the Miami Marlins in more Grapefruit League action on Friday. First pitch in Florida is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. Adam Warren, who has been dominant in his first two outings, will get the start for New York.
The New York Yankees welcomed the Dominican Republic’s World Baseball Classic squad to Steinbrenner Field for an exhibition on Wednesday afternoon. Getting the start on the hill, a late change for the Dominican team, was Vidal Nuno. Nuno pitched in the playoffs for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, and is expected to begin the year in the RailRider rotation. He helped his national side to an 8-2 win over his employer.
Nuno was nothing short of dominant. He tossed four scoreless innings, did not allow a hit, walked just one, and struck out four batters. Nuno has had a fantastic spring while in a Yankees uniform, striking out nine batters in five innings. Should be interesting to see what kind of playing time Nuno gets in the WBC.
Yankee pitcher’s faced a lineup that featured a combined 12 All-Star appearances, including Robinson Cano. Cano had an RBI-single for his national team. Jose Reyes, Nelson Cruz, and Hanley Ramirez also received starts for the Dominican team. Despite this powerful lineup, Hiroki Kuroda threw three scoreless innings, striking out four in the process.
Zoilo Almonte, who might be in the Opening Day lineup as a RailRider, smacked a two-run home run as he continues to impress Yankees brass this spring. The Yankee offense could only muster two hits in the exhibition defeat.
After an off-day, the New York Yankees spring training squad went under the lights at George M. Steinbrenner Field to take on the Atlanta Braves. A significant portion of the Yankees lineup received the day off, including Robinson Cano who is gearing up to join the Dominican Republic for the World Baseball Classic. The Yankee offense failed to get going, as they fell 2-0.
David Phelps, who spent a short time with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, was superb. He threw four innings, allowing just one run on two hits, striking out two. It was the righty’s finest performance so far this spring, and he’s now allowed just one run over nine innings. With the injury to Phil Hughes, Phelps may be the man that steps up a few notches in the rotation.
The Yankee offense managed just five hits, two of them coming from Brett Gardner. Corban Joseph and Ronnier Mustelier each had a base hit. Both spent most of the 2012 campaign with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The Braves featured a lineup that will look very similar to their Opening Day one, with Freddie Freeman collecting two hits, and Justin Upton collecting his sixth RBI of the spring.
New York reassigned seven players to the minor league camp earlier on Tuesday, including Tyler Austin, who has turned heads the past week and a half. Joining Austin on the list are Yankees top prospect Gary Sanchez, and former first round pick Cito Culver. The Yankees will now welcome Cano’s Dominican Republic squad, as they prepare to begin World Baseball Classic pool play.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox renewed their rivalry for the first time in the 2013 calendar year by facing each other in a spring contest on Sunday afternoon. News from before the game surely warmed the hearts of Yankee faithful, as Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte each pitched in a simulated game. Rivera threw 21 pitches, while Pettitte hurled 34.
The Yankees took home the victory in Sunday’s action against Boston, 5-2. Adam Warren was once again impressive for New York, as he allowed just one run on one hit over three innings of work. After two starts this spring, Warren has gone five innings with just the one run allowed. Other past Scranton/Wilkes-Barre players to pitch in today’s game include Chase Whitley, who tossed a scoreless seventh inning. Preston Claiborne also appeared to get the first out of the eighth inning.
Offensively, big time prospect Tyler Austin continues to open eyes in camp, after homering yesterday, Austin added another hit to raise his spring batting average to .571. Corban Joseph followed up a strong Saturday performance with another hit and run scored on Sunday.
The Yankees will have Monday off from competitive action, and will play the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday under the lights, first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.
Those driving in the Moosic, Pa. area may have noticed a large, steel frame being installed along Montage Mountain Road. That beautiful frame is where the new board at the renovated PNC Field is going to go. Cameron Wengrzyn, our director of fan experience, could not be more excited about the latest addition that is about to go in that’s geared toward fan’s entertainment.
We didn’t stay outside for too long this week, instead we headed inside to warm up and visit the visitor’s clubhouse, and the club level bar area. Episode five also gives you a look at the dugouts at PNC Field which were recently extended during the renovation. The seating bowl is almost finished, and the paneling is going up all around the stadium.
In just under five weeks, the Pawtucket Red Sox will travel in to open up the 2013 season at the renovated PNC Field. Spring Training is under way in Florida and Arizona, and we’ll file another Yankees Spring Training update later this afternoon. Until then, enjoy episode five of Becoming a Ballpark!