Wynton Bernard's route to the Tigers' roster is anything but traditional. Born in San Diego, he attended Rancho Bernardo High School. He stayed close to home in choosing Riverside Community College, which led to a Division I opportunity playing for Niagra University in Lewiston, New York. The San Diego Padres drafted the Purple Eagle in the 35th round of the 2012 draft, where the bonuses are small and the odds of making the big leagues very long. He graduated with honors, and entered professional baseball.
The Padres promoted Wynton through Rookie, Low-A, Single-A, and Advanced-A ball in 2013, but released him before the 2014 season. Repeating his college path, he thought of moving up I-15 toward Los Angeles and unsuccessfully tried out for the Dodgers. Then he again turned his thoughts toward the Great Lakes, and paid his way to attend a tryout with the Tigers. Detroit saw enough potential to sign him as an extra outfielder for the Whitecaps.
Bernard blossomed in West Michigan, breaking the team record of 158 hits (shared by Robert Fick and Nick Castellanos) and being named the Midwest League MVP. The last Whitecaps player to be named league MVP was Gorkys Hernandez, who eventually made the major leagues.
When the Tigers added Wynton to the 40 man roster in November, Rob had this to say:
Bernard hit .323/.394/.442 with 42 extra base hits and six home runs in 583 plate appearances for the Whitecaps this year. A right-handed batter, Bernard walked in 9.6 percent of his plate appearances while striking out at a 14.8 percent clip. He also stole 45 bases in 64 attempts. His .323 average and 224 total bases both ranked fourth in the Midwest League. Bernard is a center fielder by trade, and his glove does not appear to be a detriment. He only committed four errors and had seven assists on the year.
So we have a prospect who could make contribution to the Tigers? It is possible, as Rajai Davis was drafted in the 38th round and broke in to the major leagues at age 25. Wynton is 24 years old and has four rungs to climb to the top, so time is running short. He played last season against younger competition. His presence is an indictment of the organizational outfield depth, not an endorsement of his potential.
The Tigers only need to pay Bernard $41,400 so their investment is small. With his honors degree, he could be making more outside of baseball. Clearly he has a passion for the game, and that is respectable.
Stats and projections
*Note: ZiPS projections do not attempt to determine playing time (hence Bernard's high plate appearance totals). They only project performance.
The Steamer projection is for Bernard to have three hits and a walk in 13 plate appearances. This suggests a late-season call-up to rest the regulars as they prepare for the playoffs. Or it could be a midseason cup of coffee to fill in if an outfielder hits the 15 day disabled list. I would be thrilled for Wynton if a major league promotion does come to pass.
But let's be realistic. He should start the season in Lakeland and where he could post a .350 on-base percentage and .400 slugging percentage. The Tigers will be tempted to promote him quickly given his age, which could mean Erie in July. A .320 on-base percentage and .375 slugging percentage in Double-A, and he falls off the radar. If he climbs the ladder all the way to Detroit, it will be the result of major trouble in Motown. My hope is that he gets the late-season call-up. My cold-hearted calculation is that he will be off the 40-man roster by August 1.