He was working out, rehabbing his surgically repaired arm, when Dan Winkler received the call that he was no longer a member of the Colorado Rockies. In the middle of one of his 50-throw workout sessions, Dan was working his way towards returning to the mound and in his words, "earning [his] way to the big leagues."
That's when the phone rang, and Dan's agent notified him he had been selected by the Atlanta Braves in the recent Rule 5 Draft. The news didn't come as a surprise for the Illinois native because Zach Wilson, the Rockies' senior director of player development had told Dan the week prior that he wasn't going to be protected. His season had been a spectacular one leading up to the injury, but the Rockies weren't willing to pay him big league money to rehab for the year.
Dan and his wife celebrated after hearing the news that he was a Brave, as well they should. Winkler will be paid around $500,000 and will gain major league service time provided Atlanta keeps him on its roster for the entire 2015 season.
The loss came as a shock to many Rockies fans that follow the minor league prospects however. Winkler may not have been drafted with the credentials of a Jon Gray, or displays the stuff of a Eddie Butler, but he's become adept at leading the minor leagues.
In 2013 he led the minors in total strikeouts, a feat which earned him the award for California League Pitcher of the Year. In 2014, he was leading the minors with a 1.41 ERA before blowing out his ulnar collateral ligament. Winkler isn't overpowering, but he throws four pitches to all four quadrants of the strike zone, and he gets results.
This next season will consist of recovery, rehab and hard work for Dan. According to Everything you wanted to know about Tommy John Surgery by Jim McLennan of AZ Snake Pit, the timetable for recovery in this type of injury is 12 months before the player is ready to throw in a game situation. That's a year wasted, and then another year before the pitcher feels like normal again. However, the odds are in Dan's favor as 75.5% of major league players surveyed after the procedure said they returned to the same level of play and only 7% experienced complete failure upon their return.
Dan told me his mom is a big fan of Purple Row and she shared with him the Disappointing Departure... article by RhodeIslandRoxfan. He said he definitely felt the love from the comments by the community here and that he's sad to leave. But, he's also realistic in how the Rule 5 Draft works, and recognizes there's a possibility he'll be back with the Rockies this year.
He wanted me to share with Purple Row how he felt about leaving and what his goals are for next year:
"Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout the years. It means a lot to me and my family. The Rockies fans, organization, media, and players have been nothing short of amazing to me. I'm sad to leave and excited for a new journey, but I am also realistic and I understand how the Rule 5 Draft works. However, my goals this year are to do what is best for me; my family; and the organization, which is to get healthy and be an impact player at the major league level. I want to be a guy my manager has confidence in handing the ball off to, whether that is every five days or in the bullpen. Again, I'd like to thank everyone for the amazing support. Like I said earlier though, there may be circumstances down the road that may lead me back to being a Rockie. God has a plan for me and I trust it wholeheartedly."
I want to echo the feelings in RIRF's article about the loss of Dan Winkler, and I'm disappointed the team couldn't find room to protect him. The organization may have saved $500,000 by not adding him to the roster, but that's a bargain for a team that finished second-to-last in bullpen ERA and struggles to find quality starters.