BRISTOL - Most baseball teams rely on one signal caller behind the plate to help direct the pitching staff. The Bristol Blues have three.
Patrick Winkel, Bryce Ramsay and Alex Baumann - all Division I players - have all been crucial both in their work with the pitching staff and to Bristol’s offense this season.
Winkel has been one of the best players on the team since joining the Blues in late-June. He has played eight of 13 games behind the plate, committing just two errors in 62 innings at catcher.
Winkel also brings an impressive bat to Bristol’s lineup. He has collected hits in 11 games and has the third best average on the team at .320. Winkel was also selected to the Futures League All-Star Game and competed in the Home Run Derby.
“His offensive numbers speak for themselves,” Blues manager Ronnie Palmer said. “He’s been very good for us - driving in runs, extra-base hits, all of that. Defensively, he’s got a great personality and relates extremely well to the pitching staff.”
The biggest hurdle for Winkel has been his availability. He is only able to play weekend games for Bristol. The rest of the week, he trains with the UConn baseball staff to prepare for his freshman year at the school. As a result of the commitment, Winkel has not appeared in a game for the Blues since July 21.
But according to Palmer, Winkel’s schedule has yet to affect the player or the rest of the team.
“I spoke to UConn’s [pitching coach] Josh MacDonald early on and he filled me in on Pat and how they would approach things this summer and what it meant for the Blues,” Palmer said. “So we knew the situation and when he would be here with us. It’s one of those things where, if you weren’t prepared for it, it would be very frustrating. But it’s not because we were prepared for it.”
Winkel said his experiences between the Blues and UConn this summer has allowed him to grow as a person and a student.
“On the field, I have just tried to take advantage of every at-bat or inning I’m in or getting an extra look in BP or jumping in the pen to catch some pitches,” Winkel said. “It gives you a look at what you’re going to see in college next year as well. It also helps me from a time-management perspective, trying to handle all of these different things. So in a way, it has actually helped me get ready for classes too.”
Ramsay, who joined the team the same week as Winkel, has been key in filling in for his teammate’s absence. He joined the Blues primarily as a defensive catcher, but has brought an all-around game to the Blues.
He has an average of .303 and a .989 fielding percentage, fourth and fifth best on the team among position players, respectively. Ramsay sees this season with the Blues as a great opportunity to make up for missing the entire spring season with a broken left index finger.
“I knew I was coming into a situation where there were already two [catchers] here and they just needed someone one to come in and play some games,” the University of Hartford backstop said. “I was definitely excited for the opportunity. I just wanted to come in, work with my teammates and get back into the swing of things.”
Baumann has been on the team since the beginning of the summer and has become a leader in the Bristol clubhouse. With 24 games behind the plate, he has the most experience at the position than anyone on the roster. He got off to a cold start offensively, but the junior from Bucknell has turned things around as of late with hits in six of his last seven games.
Though there is no specific strategy as to which player is in the lineup on any given day, Palmer knows whoever he puts in the lineup will produce for the team.
“They all are quality receivers behind the dish and they all have their own approaches at the plate,” Palmer said of the three players. “We feel pretty comfortable and confident with any of them behind the dish for us, calling games and receiving our pitchers. Pat has had more success offensively, Bryce has come on of late and Alex has been a mainstay all summer for us. Anything we ask him to do, whether he’s playing or it’s his off day and he’s in the bullpen, he does it. So we feel confident with all of those guys.”
For the catchers, having three guys who rotate the position has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“We kind of learn from each other,” Ramsay said. “Whether I learn from Pat or he’s learning from us or Baumann shows me something or what not, we kind of just help each other out throughout the season.”
With the end of the regular season fast approaching, Palmer doesn’t see any added pressure on his players. But Ramsay knows the importance of pitching in the postseason and the catchers’ job in helping sure up the staff.
“We’re just trying to figure out who works with where,” Ramsay said. “We’ve has some injuries and sicknesses, but we’ve been able to figure out a set pitching rotation. Especially from a catcher’s perspective, you understand more about a rotation and the coaches are doing a great job of figuring those things out. So I think we will do well.”
Tyler Roaix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org