Riverdale Baptist Grad Signs with Orioles
Tommy Winegardner makes his minor league debut in the Gulf Coast League.
The ringtone for Tommy Winegardner's cell phone is set to "Voices," a country song by Chris Young that stresses the importance of listening to your parents.
But it was the voice of Dean Albany, a long-time scout for the Baltimore Orioles, that was music to Winegardner's ears a few weeks ago.
A former baseball standout at Riverdale Baptist, Winegardner was a standout infielder and pitcher this past season at the college level for Cumberland, an NAIA school in Tennessee and the 2010 national champion.
He had hoped to be taken in the annual Major League free agent draft in early June, but his name was not called. But a few weeks later he got a call from Albany, who had scouted Winegardner in high school.
Winegardner, who was featured in the New York Times as a teenager about young baseball prospects, was offered the chance to sign with the Orioles as a non-drafted free agent.
He did just that.
"He called me and asked if I wanted to play," Winegardner said of Albany, who grew up in the Baltimore area. "I said yes. He used to watch me at Riverdale Baptist. It means a lot. He called and wanted a shortstop."
"He has a really good arm," Albany told Patch on Monday. "We needed a middle infielder for the Gulf Coast League, someone we thought could play good defense. He was the first one I thought of."
Albany saw Winegardner play at Cumberland this past college season. He had one more year of college eligibility but decided to sign with the Orioles. "He just wanted a chance. It was not about the money. He wanted the opportunity," Albany said.
The Orioles paid for his flight to Florida where he joined a minor league team of the Birds in the Gulf Coast League in Sarasota. A resident of St. Leonard in Calvert County, Winegardner made his pro debut July 6 and had one hit and one RBI in four at-bats.
In his first 13 games, he hit .200 in 45 at bats with two doubles, two RBIs and two steals. The 20-year-old had two hits on July 13 in the only night game he had played in the first 13 contests.
"The pitchers are a lot more consistent" than in college, he said. "I have not faced anyone who threw under 90 miles per hour."
Most games in the Gulf Coast League are held in the afternoon. In games through Sunday he was hitting just .171 in day games and just .125 against left-handed pitchers. "It is hot but you get used to it," Winegardner said.
Winegardner, listed at 5-foot-10, is a switch-hitter. He began his college career at Coastal Carolina.
Winegarder said he has been batting leadoff for the Gulf Coast Orioles. His hitting coach is Milt May, who played in the Major Leagues from 1970-84. May was with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1971 when they beat the Baltimore Orioles in seven games for the World Series title.
After not being drafted, Winegardner played in the amateur Cal Ripken League for the Southern Maryland Nationals before he got the call from the Orioles. He hit .326 in 46 at bats for the Nationals before heading to Florida.
Winegardner's parents have made trips from St. Leonard to Florida several weekends to see him play. Winegardner wants to be promoted to the Aberdeen IronBirds, who play at Ripken Stadium north of Baltimore and are a farm team of the Orioles.
After that the next three stops in the Orioles' farm system are also in Maryland: Salisbury (Delmarva Shorebirds) in the low Single-A South Atlantic League, the Frederick Keys in the high Single-A Carolina League and the Bowie Baysox in the Double-A Eastern League.
Winegardner is not the only former Riverdale Baptist standout to play in the Baltimore farm system. George Baker, who played for the Crusaders and at Liberty University, was a catcher in the Baltimore farm system in the 1990s.
Both of them played at the school in Upper Marlboro for long-time Riverdale Baptist head coach Terry Terrill.
For now, Winegardner is playing shortstop in the Gulf Coast League. Albany said as a pitcher his fastball was in the 90 to 93 mile-per-hour range. Is there any chance he could pitch in the minors? "That is up to the farm director" John Stockstill, Albany said.