Rangers Prospect Cole Winn Talks Pitching (and a Fox on the Field)

Cole Winn has been on a roll. Pitching for the Double-A Frisco Rough Riders, the 21-year-old right-hander is coming off consecutive scoreless starts where he’s allowed just one hit and fanned 13 batters in 12 innings of near-spotless work. The earlier of those outings was notable for more than just his dominance. As the 2018 first-rounder stood on the mound, a fox darted across the field, traversed the warning track, and finally escaped, untouched by human hands.

Winn — No. 3 on our Texas Rangers Top Prospects list and with a 1.63 ERA on the season — talked pitching (and fox-delays) prior to last Thursday’s game.


David Laurila: Before we get to pitching, I need to ask you about the fox…

Cole Winn: “I didn’t see it until after I threw the pitch. It was kind of a blur that ran right in front of me. And it was a little bit frustrating that it took so long to get it off the field, because I felt like I was in a good groove. I was on a roll, and that kind of slowed me up for a pitch or two before I got back into it. But honestly, it’s one of the strangest things that’s ever had happened to me — or that I’ve ever witnessed — on a baseball field.”

Laurila: Where was the fox when you first noticed it?

Winn: “When I first saw it, it was right in front of me. Like, it ran between home plate and the pitcher’s mound. I have no clue where it came from. I asked around, and no one else knew where it came from. So it was strange. It was really strange.”

Laurila: The video I saw ended with the fox still running along the warning track. How did it get off the field?

Winn: “Down the right field line, there was an opening for where the grounds crew keeps everything. It went through there and they closed the gate pretty quick.”

Laurila: Has it been seen since?

Winn: “I’m not sure. I haven’t gotten a report on that.”

Laurila: You dominated all night. Do you now consider foxes to be good luck?

Winn: “I’d like to say good luck, although if it had happened in the first inning and then I had the outing that I did, I would say it was even better luck. It ran out there in the sixth inning during the second-to-last batter I faced, but I’ll still take it as good luck.”

Laurila: Speaking of outings, is this the best you’ve pitched?

Winn: “The closest I’ve been to this was in high school, but considering the level of competition — this is professional baseball — I’d say this is probably the best I’ve pitched in my life.”

Laurila: How different is your stuff compared to what it was in high school?

Winn: “It’s considerably different. I have the same repertoire [four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, changeup], but last year during quarantine we sat down and fine-tuned every pitch. We worked on stuff every day, whether it was small little grip changes, or just being more consistent, or keeping the same arm slot. So I’d say they’re pretty different, considering they’re all the same pitches.”

Laurila: You said “we worked on stuff.” Who is “we”?

Winn: “Myself; Jordan Tiegs, who is the [Low-A] pitching coach now; Jose Jaimes was out in Arizona for a while; Sean Cashman was there, but he’s no longer with the organization.”

Laurila: I assume technology played a big part in that?

Winn: “Yes, we were getting the Rapsodo and the TrackMan out there, and we would use the Edgertronic for my curveball. We would draw a stripe down the middle of the baseball and try and get the spin on my curveball as clean we could, so you could see the stripe the whole way. That was a big thing for me.”

Laurila: What did you learn about your stuff?

Winn: “I learned that the more consistent I got with it, the better the results. That sounds pretty obvious, but I learned that different feelings on each pitch was a big thing for me. For instance, the changeup is a huge feel pitch, and I was able to get the grip down, and the feel on it. So, repeating every pitch with that feeling, and then getting the fastball spinning better by getting more behind it, and getting a little bit more ride on it.

“Also, my curveball went from being a little bit loopy and not as sharp to where now I can get it to be a lot sharper. The consistency of landing the curveball and the slider… just trying to keep them as tight and as hard as possible.”

Laurila: Is the curveball your best secondary pitch?

Winn: “I would say my slider. I know a lot of people think the curveball is, but personally, I would say slider.”

Laurila: Why?

Winn: “I think that my slider is better because because I can throw it in any count. I feel comfortable enough to do that. I can land it, and then I can drop it below the zone, pretty controllably. The curveball is starting to get like that, but it has a lot of movement. It’s a little bit harder to control a bigger curveball. So I’m still working on it, day by day, to get it more consistent, and to where I want it to be.”

Laurila: Are you trying to make it a little shorter, so that you can command it better?

Winn: “It’s not shorter, but it’s a little bit harder and it doesn’t really pop out of my hand. The spin efficiency is getting better and better to where it won’t pop out of my hand and the hitters see that early.”

Laurila: What do you know about your spin rates and spin efficiencies?

Winn: “I know the slider and curveball are the highest spin rates, and the fastball obviously has the highest spin efficiency. I think the slider is around 2,900-plus [rpm] and then the curveball is round 2,900-plus, as well. My fastball is around 2,450.”

Laurila: What can you tell me about your changeup?

Winn: “It’s rapidly becoming a better and better pitch, each outing. It’s a pitch that I can throw to righties or lefties, and in any count. It kind of gets me back in a lot of counts. The comfortability with that has been good so far.”

Laurila: How do you grip your changeup?

Winn: “I grip it on the four-seam. My middle finger is right on the top of the horseshoe. It’s kind of a circle change.”

Laurila: Do you throw your curveball and slider with traditional grips, or are they spiked?

Winn: “My curveball is spiked. My slider is traditional.

Laurila: You mentioned grip tweaks earlier…

Winn: “Yeah. My curveball was just having my thumb be on the lace across the horseshoes; it was about having my thumb in the right spot, a little bit more up on the ball. We saw that it had kept creeping down, and that’s when it would pop out of my hand. Once we made that change, we noticed that it didn’t pop as much.

“The slider was about just getting more comfortable. There wasn’t really a grip change with that. It was just getting it away from being a slurve, and actually being a true slider.”

Laurila: What can you tell me about your pitch usage — how often you throw each one — and the velocity of each of your pitches?

Winn: “My fastball percentage has been a little bit below 50% and the other three are split pretty equally, so it’s a pretty good mix. As far as velocity, my fastball has been 93 to 96 [mph], my curveball has been about 79-81, the slider is 85-87, and my changeup is 87-89.”

Laurila: I assume you’re really happy with your season thus far?

Winn: “I’m happy to a point. Obviously, there’s still a lot of room to grow. There’s always something you can get better on, so outing by outing there are little things I could improve on. So yeah, happy to a certain extent, but I want to keep getting better.”

Laurila: And hope that foxes keep bringing good luck.

Winn: “For sure.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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