Image: Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal
All stats current as of 8/11/22
Who is Wynton Bernard?
The Zoom call crapped out, my screen went dark, and I couldn’t see anything. I scrambled upstairs to see what happened to the internet. My dog was standing next to a toppled-over router with the cords disconnected. No time to be angry, I thought. I hurriedly set up a hotspot and logged back on. “Sorry, guys, my dog took out my WiFi.” Wynton flashed a smile and laughed. “What was your last question?”
Wynton was in what looked to be the bowels of the Albuquerque Isotopes clubhouse. Equipment was strewn about, and the concrete walls looked cold to the touch. I asked again, “Fresh off your PCL Player of the Month Award, and with the September roster expansion looming, how are you able to steady yourself with such a massive personal goal of yours potentially coming true?”
“Everybody has their own story here, and you can’t make it about yourself,” he responded, “If you continue to put your head down and go to work, the call-up will come.” An hour after he graciously gave me fifteen minutes of his time, reports surfaced that he would be selected by the Colorado Rockies to make his MLB debut on Friday. One month shy of his 32nd birthday, Bernard has played eleven seasons in affiliated, independent, and international baseball across twenty cities and five countries. He’ll soon add one more team to that total.
Bernard nearly made the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day roster in 2016 after joining the club after an open tryout following his release from the Padres’ organization. However he was passed up for fellow outfielder Tyler Collins, who is best known for flipping off fans at Comerica Park. Unfortunately, Wynton struggled in Toledo that season, and was gone by the end of the year.
From then until now, Bernard has persisted. Two more high-minor stints with the Giants and Cubs didn’t lead to a call-up. He was hitting well in AA, but couldn’t make the jump to AAA. The Pandemic came, so he played in the short-lived independent Constellation Energy League. All along the way he spent his Winters playing in the Caribbean Leagues. He finally signed with Albuquerque in 2021, in what could have possibly been his last shot at the bigs.
After an underwhelming first season with the Isotopes, Wynton was upset. He told me that he’d always pulled the ball to the left side, and couldn’t get it up in the air. Teams shifted him all the time in 2021, and Albuquerque’s hitting coordinator showed him the spray charts and exit velocity data that proved Wynton could hit the ball hard, but wasn’t doing it efficiently.
“I went to the Mexican [Pacific] League this offseason. I put a big emphasis on redoing my swing again. I said, ‘I have to be able to hit the ball to right-center and left-center. I can’t just be able to hit it out to left field.”
Wynton’s offensive profile has completely changed in 2022 with the work done this offseason. He currently has the highest OPS of his career at .962, and his 133 wRC+ is good for 4th in the Pacific Coast League. He is finally lifting the ball, and has ostensibly grown out of being a pure pull hitter. “It’s helped tremendously.”
Bernard’s Line Drive% is at a career high of 25.1%, while his Groundball% and Flyball% nearly match career lows. His 22.1% HR/FB% is double the next highest of his career. On top of that, his Oppo% and Pull% are the closest they have been after a full season’s workload in his career. The changes he made in this past offseason have mitigated waste and maximized efficiency.
The playing time Bernard has received this season has also helped tremendously. He hasn’t been an everyday player since 2015. With the expanded role, he has been able to consistently work on what he learns on film from his offseason hitting coaches, and from some former teammates in Detroit’s organization. “Literally before we’re about to play right now, I’m about to go watch Miguel Cabrera’s film.”
Baseball isn’t played with a computer, and in the end, it comes down to hitting the ball hard, and hittin’ ‘em where they ain’t. After games, the Isotopes get their launch angle and exit velocity data from the team. That’s as far as Wynton looks into his advanced stats. “I know some teams have way more information, but here that’s all I need.” He knows if he’s making good contact, and if he’s not smothering the ball. His improvement has been a mechanical one, but is still rooted in Statcast data.
Bernard has spoken highly about the clubhouse in Albuquerque. “I know he truly cares about me,” said Wynton in regard to his manager Warren Schaeffer, “He has shown it the most . . . it goes a long way.” Albuquerque has been able to get good performances out of its hitters since Schaeffer got there, so there’s one good thing going for Rockies fans.
It’s fairly clear why Bernard is debuting. You can talk about his ISO of .264 being 70 points higher than any other season of his career, or the fact that his BABIP, which has stayed relatively high throughout his career due to his speed, will only be helped by Coors Field’s dimensions, or even him being able to provide good defense in center field for Colorado. He has been a complete player this season.
Above all, though, Colorado is getting a great person in their locker room. Many have negative opinions on the organization, in some cases rightly so, but Wynton Bernard’s success is a shining light in what is a lost season. He represents perseverance and hard work paying off, and constantly refining your craft until someone rightly recognizes you for who you have become.
Wynton Bernard has earned his major league debut. He’s also earned a fan for life. A fan that can’t wait to queue up a Rockies game on a late Summer night. His story is one that can be used when one’s own dreams seem too far away. You just have to keep your head down and go to work. Your time will come.
Shoutout to the cleats I hope he debuts in.