Bubba Watson receives a jersey from Blue Wahoos owner Quint Studer before a first pitch in 2012.
This is part five of a continuing series breaking down the offseason’s headlines. Click here for recaps from September, October, November and December. As always, you can stay up-to-date on Twitter.
Bubba Watson introduced as minority owner
He’s known for pink clubs, green jackets, and now Blue Wahoos.
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson announced his partnership with the team in a Jan. 19 press conference. His financial stake in the team was not disclosed.
Watson, a fairly frequent visitor to Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, was eager to get involved after watching his first game in 2012. “Ever since I went to my first Blue Wahoos game I have been a big fan of the team,” Watson said in a statement. “I wish Pensacola had a team like this when I was growing up.”
For fans outside Florida, Watson brings a very public face to the franchise. The Bagdad native has won seven PGA Tour titles since his professional debut in 2003.
“He is someone who people follow and connect with even if they don’t play golf,” owner Quint Studer told the Pensacola News Journal’s Bill Vilona. “There are very few athletes who connect with people beyond their sport and Bubba is one of those.”
Team officials welcome Watson at a public event, which was capped by a few memorable swings. First, he teed off where thousands of batters have stood and took a swing that none of them ever did:
From @FOXSportsOH, this is what a Bubba Watson drive looks like from home plate: http://t.co/MVzIWaHLlA pic.twitter.com/jD0Qa6SNnH
— Hook Line and Sinker (@wahoosblog) January 20, 2015
Watson then tried his hand with a bat, digging in against Wahoos reliever Jamie Walczak:
@JPaulWal22, 2009 @MercyhurstU grad and @Reds Minor leaguer throwing BP to 2 time Masters winner @bubbawatson. pic.twitter.com/TqwyfPfwt5 — Mercyhurst Baseball (@HurstBaseball) January 20, 2015
As part of the partnership, the stadium’s restaurant and bar will be renamed Bubba’s Sand Trap. Foodies can also expect a new item on the menu: the Bubba Dub Grilled Cheese, a double-decker grilled cheese sandwich with hash browns at its center.
Watson will defend his title at Augusta on the same day the Wahoos open the 2015 season.
Baseball isn’t played by a clock, but Double-A and Triple-A games will use a stopwatch in 2015.
As the Associated Press reported and ESPN relayed, the pitch clock is coming to Minor League Baseball after a trial run in the AFL. Time limits on pitching changes and inning breaks will also be implemented.
Rule changes at the highest level would require approval from the players’ union, so the Majors won’t be on the clock until 2016 at the earliest.
No caption necessary.
Cincinnati’s calling for Jesse Winker
2014 was the year the world met Jesse Winker.
Granted, Reds fans have been watching the outfielder since his first-round selection in 2012. But Winker’s Futures Game appearance paired with a strong Arizona Fall League campaign has given him a higher profile.
Winker, invited to his first Major League camp this spring, is touted as the Reds’ long-term solution in left field. Speaking to Mark Sheldon, the prospect isn’t feeling much pressure in the face of sky-high expectations:
Asked if he felt pressure being “heir apparent” to be #reds LF in 2016, Jesse Winker said he felt none and is just trying to move up
— Mark Sheldon (@m_sheldon) January 25, 2015
Jonathan Mayo has a bold prediction for 2015: “I’m picking Reds outfielder Jesse Winker to walk away with the batting title.” Note his choice of words: Mayo not only expects Winker to claim the title, but to blow out any competition. Winker paced the AFL with a .338 clip and has a career average of .297 in three Minor League seasons.
Winker will likely start the season in Pensacola.
More prospect lists
As national outlets rank the Reds system, Winker and Robert Stephenson continue to draw national acclaim as Cincinnati’s top prospects.
ESPN.com’s Keith Law revealed his top 10 Reds prospects as part of the network’s subscription service. However, C. Trent Rosecrans shared the list, which includes five Wahoos. Winker and Stephenson lead the list with pitcher Michael Lorenzen ranked fourth. Outfielders Yorman Rodriguez and Kyle Waldrop close the list. In Law’s Top 100, Winker is ranked No. 40 overall with Stephenson not far behind at No. 49.
On Baseball America’s list, Stephenson holds the top spot with Cuban pitcher Raisel Iglesias pulling ahead of Winker. Lorenzen and Stephenson rank fourth and tenth, respectively. The Top 100 list, released in mid-February, pegs Stephenson at No. 23 and Winker (No. 47) oddly ahead of Iglesias (No. 58).
By J.J. Cooper’s estimation, fans could see Nick Travieso and Nick Howard, the Reds’ 2012 and 2014 first-round picks, suiting up for Pensacola this season.
The Reds’ best showing comes on the MLBPipeline.com list, at least in terms of quality if not depth. Stephenson, the list’s eighth-best right-handed pitcher and No. 24 prospect, is listed two spots ahead of Winker, the fourth-best outfielder.
For now, they are the only two Reds in the Top 100. The list is updated when prospects exceed their rookie status, so Stephenson and Winker will likely rank higher in May. Players like Lorenzen may sneak into the list’s bottom half.
Other news and notes
>> Rob Manfred is baseball’s newest commissioner. He’s spearheading pace of play efforts and entertained the idea of eliminating the infield shift.
>> Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz will be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer. It’s the largest Hall of Fame class since 1955 and easily one of the most talented in recent memory. Johnson and Martinez were nearly unstoppable at the turn of the century.
>> The Reds announced 19 non-roster invitations to Spring Training. The list includes five former Wahoos: Stephenson, Winker, Lorenzen, pitcher Jon Moscot and outfielder Ryan LaMarre.
>> MLB.com’s Bernie Pleskoff highlighted Reds prospects on the cusp of impacting the big league team. He cites Tucker Barnhart, Daniel Corcino and Yorman Rodriguez as players to watch. However, Pleskoff cautions a 2015 debut “may be a bit too optimistic” for Winker.
>> After the longest season of his professional career, Billy Hamilton looks to build endurance for the 162-game grind. Refraining from winter ball, the Reds’ center fielder hit the weight room and trained with former Wahoos manager Delino DeShields.