Patrick Winkel never plotted out to be a catcher. It just sort of happened one day, when he was a 9-year-old playing Little League ball.
“The team he was on didn’t have a catcher,” Winkel’s father, Jim, recalled. “He tried it and he enjoyed it. Frankly, it’s a good position for him, given the strengths of his game— good arm, soft hands, and the fact that he’s a left-handed bat.”
Yes, catching has worked out pretty well for Patrick Winkel. So well that the Amity High senior could very well have two intriguing choices in a couple of months: head to the powerful UConn program and reunite as teammates with his older brother, Chris, or sign with a major-league team after being selected high in the 2018 draft.
“It’s sort of a win-win,” said Winkel’s mother, Marcy. “It’s very exciting. There aren’t a lot of kids that have that opportunity. We’re just excited for him. Whatever comes of it, he’s very lucky.”
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For Winkel’s part, he’s handling the situation as well as possible for a kid who’s already been contacted by about half the teams in Major League Baseball and has scouts lined up to watch him play at practices and games.
“It’s cool and stuff,” Winkel said, “but at the end of the day, you’re there to play and have fun. Whether you play well or not, it’s about how the team does at the end. If you have a bad game, it doesn’t matter as long as your team wins.”
Winkel hasn’t had a whole lot of bad days on the baseball field over his first three seasons at Amity. As a junior last year, Winkel hit .512 with five homers, 38 RBI, 27 runs scored, 11 doubles, four triples and 43 hits (one shy of the school’s single-season record). He posted a .598 on-base percentage and slugged at a .917 clip. And that’s just what he did at the plate.
Behind the plate, Winkel was even better, throwing out all but two would-be base-stealers.
“I think, honestly, he’s better defensively,” said longtime Amity coach Sal Coppola. “He’s got a gorgeous swing, but when you watch him throw the ball down to second base, it’s like what you’d see on TV. It’s about three feet off the ground, on a line to second. How he receives the ball, blocks balls, frames pitches — he’s just outstanding. He’s all the things you look for in a catcher.”
But while Winkel is proud of his accomplishments so far, he’s hardly resting on his laurels. He wants to get better as a player and a leader, now that he’s a tri-captain along with pitcher Ben Lodewick and first baseman Jack Nolan.
“My goal is to get the team going,” he said. “Along with putting up numbers, it’s motivating the team to be as good as it can be.”
That could be even more crucial this season for an Amity team that, for the first time in recent memory, enters the season as underdogs. Well, sort of.
The Spartans lost seven of their nine starters from last year’s team that lost to Staples in the Class LL finals, snapping a streak of four straight state titles. But with Winkel leading the way, they should be right back in the state title mix.
Still, Winkel knows his leadership is crucial, particularly with a pitching staff that, beyond Lodewick and senior Mike Ficaro, might be stacked with relatively inexperienced underclassmen.
“Just managing the pitching staff, being able to calm them down when things start to derail a little bit,” Winkel said of one of his chief goals this season. “The mental side, you have to have the ability to stick to what you’re good at.”
He added that pitch-framing is “crucial, especially in high school baseball, where any pitch you can get even a little off the plate helps the pitcher and helps you. That’s the goal. Steal a strike here and there, get a big out, that can be the difference in a game.”
It’s this type of ability that had Winkel heavily on the showcase circuit this past summer. He played in the Area Code Games in Long Beach, California (as he had the prior summer, as well), along with the Perfect Game National Super 25 National Tournament in Florida and the Tournament of Stars in North Carolina. In the fall, he went down to Jupiter, Florida to play with Baseball U Connecticut, a travel team out of Fairfield comprised of top players from around the Northeast.
Through it all, he got to meet and know several major league scouts, some of whom have already popped up this spring to watch him play. That’s helped him deal with the scrutiny he’s receiving.
“I think he’s pretty calm about it,” said Coppola. “It’s nice knowing you have a scholarship to play baseball at a great school. At a minimum, he’s going to UConn to play baseball. If something extraordinary happens, he’ll consider the draft.”
Winkel has been projected as high as a fifth-round pick in this year’s June draft. Of course, that could change, depending on how well he plays this spring and how much teams are willing to offer to woo him away from his baseball scholarship.
But if there’s a dollar amount that could make Winkel consider going pro — and let teams know they wouldn’t be wasting a draft pick on him — he and his family aren’t letting on.
“In all honesty, we’re kind of putting it on the backburner,” said Jim Winkel. “We know there’s a lot of time between now and the draft (June 4-6). We want him to enjoy being a senior. As the draft comes up, we’ll have a better idea.”
“I’m just trying to focus on what’s in front of me now and let whatever happens, happen,” Patrick Winkel added. “It’s good to keep your options open, but high school season is the main focus right now.”
And that means leading an “underdog” team back to the state finals for a sixth straight season.