As JB Wendelken and his teammate Austin Maddox followed the July 31 major league baseball trading deadline, they wondered who were the lower-level minor league pitchers said to be heading to the Chicago White Sox organization from the Boston Red Sox farm system.
A phone call a few seconds later helped solve the mystery.
On the other end was Carlos Febles, the manager of the Greenville Drive and Wendelken’s skipper. He told the former South Effingham High School star that he was part of the package the Red Sox were sending to Chicago for pitcher Jake Peavy.
“I was kind of confused at first,” Wendelken said. “I didn’t know how to take it. I didn’t know if getting traded was a good thing or a bad thing.”
The Drive was at the end of a seven-game road trip when Wendelken was traded, and his new team, the Kannapolis Intimidators, was starting a seven-game road trek, meaning the young right-hander wasn’t able to take many belongings with him.
But the trade also may bode well for Wendelken, since nine of Boston’s top 20 minor-league prospects, according to soxprospects.com, are pitchers.
“In the Boston organization, there were a lot of guys who threw really hard, a lot of high prospects,” he said. “I figure I have a better opportunity. I feel I understand a lot more than other guys. I think it’s a better situation.”
After registering 10 saves in 27 appearances as a middle reliever with Greenville, Wendelken was just in three games with Class A Kannapolis before being promoted to high Class A Winston-Salem in the Carolina League. For the season, his first full campaign in the minors, Wendelken went 2-2 with an earned run average of 3.42. He also struck 78 batters in 79 innings and held opposing hitters to a .257 average.
But developing and refining himself as a pitcher also means putting in a lot of work on his own, as Wendelken has discovered.
“It’s different from anything you thought it would be,” he said. “It’s a lot of independence. You’ve got to figure it out yourself. You learn so much so quick. You have to do every pitch every day. You have to stay on top of it. You can’t learn to be a good pitcher overnight.”
Wendelken has been busy during the off-season. Like many minor leaguers, the winter means more than time off. It also means finding a job, and he’s working as a roofer.
“I’ve been doing a little bit of side work so far,” he joked, “putting on some roofs, making a little money.”
There’s a break of about two weeks once the season ends before Wendelken starts lifting weights again. The minor league season ends around Labor Day, almost a month before the major league regular season concludes. Wendelken won’t start working with a baseball until the end of this month when he goes to Atlanta with his agent, who has a facility there. He and other pitchers will consult with former Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone.
“He comes and helps us every now and then and gives us some guidelines,” Wendelken said. “That’s where we get our work in, late December, early January.”
As for now, Wendelken is relishing the time off.
“I’m loving it,” he said. “I’m eating it up.”