Josh Winder ’19, pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, follows a routine. Whether throwing or not, he is at the ballpark at least five hours before the first pitch. He spends three hours in the weight room and the training room. After that, he studies the information about opposing hitters and then warms up, throwing dozens of pitches.
Routine is nothing new for Winder, as it resembles what he did as a cadet-athlete. “Every day, I apply two big lessons I learned at VMI: Discipline and time management. The first gave me the willingness and ability to be comfortable in a Spartan environment. The second taught me how to maximize efficiency and to come to tasks—like game day preparation—with a plan and a purpose.”
Winder’s road to “The Show” started when he was 4 years old and joined the same team as his brother, who was a year older. “I was always playing up a year, and that helped in my development.” A Chicago Cubs fan growing up, he has a “vivid memory” of watching Kerry Wood, Cubs pitcher, throw a complete game, albeit on television.
Yet, for all the early exposure to the game, Winder says, “There never was a moment when I declared, ‘I’m going to be a ballplayer.’” He explained he never had “a spike in development” or “never dominated” as a pitcher. “I just kept working until one day I raised my head and realized I was at the mountaintop—and was drafted.”
Helping Winder were his coaches at VMI, including Jonathan Hadra ’04, current head coach, and Travis Beazley, VMI’s pitching coach. The staff—then led by Marlin Ikenberry ’95—had spotted Winder during his freshman year at James River High School in Midlothian, Virginia. It was at a baseball camp in the winter of Winder’s junior year when they made the decision to make him an offer. “He had started to grow,” said Hadra, “standing around 6-foot-2.”
Even more impressive, however, were his skills as a pitcher. “We were amazed at how clean his arm worked,” recalled Hadra. “He could repeat his motion time after time after time; he had what in baseball is called ‘command.’”
Winder accepted VMI’s offer. Asked why he didn’t wait to field offers from bigger schools better known for baseball, he replied, “I wanted to go to a small school close to home. I wanted to go to a school with a strong academic program. I wanted to be involved with a good program. VMI checked all those boxes for me.”
Playing at VMI, he explained, also gave him playing time early in his college career. “If I had gone to a bigger school, I might not have thrown in a game until my junior or even senior year.” As it was, Winder was placed in the starting rotation in his rat year. “Getting those innings, getting those reps, accelerated my development.”
Hadra agreed, “Being able to pitch early allowed him to go through the learning curve early, and you can’t put a value on that experience.”
As impressed as he was by Winder’s pitching skills, Hadra was even more impressed by his attitude. “He was extremely mature and approached his work like a professional. That allowed Travis Beazley to coach him one-on-one. He was highly competitive, but he also was even keeled and took the ebbs and flows as they came.”
Of course, there were other “ebbs and flows” Winder encountered at VMI. “The experience of being a cadet-athlete is like being one of those carnival performers who keeps a bunch of plates spinning at once. You’re stretched in many different directions. You need to adapt and prioritize and become used to handling a lot.”
Winder apparently could handle a lot. He was an immediate success as a player, being named to the 2016 Southern Conference All-Freshman team after a season that saw him finish the year with a 4-4 record with a 4.80 earned run average. He built upon that record over the next two seasons, ending his college career with a 16-16 record, an ERA of 4.52, and 279 strikeouts.
He took every advantage of the Institute’s academic program. He had academic stars as an economics and business major, earning membership in the international economics honor society Omicron Delta Epsilon and Beta Gamma Sigma, an international business honor society. He also was inducted into Omicron Delta Kappa, a prestigious national leadership honor society that recognizes students who display excellent leadership and strong character.
Hadra praised Winder’s leadership and character on the team. “He was a fantastic teammate, down-to-earth and humble. He was just one of the guys, even though he was the focus of a lot of outside attention.”
He also took a serious interest in the development of his teammates, especially the rats. “He taught them well,” said Hadra, “and by doing so, he has had an enduring impact on the team.”
In spring 2018, the Minnesota Twins selected him in the seventh round of the draft. Winder was the third-highest draft pick in school history and only the third VMI pitcher to be selected in a draft’s first 10 rounds.
When he accepted the Twins’ offer, he told them he was determined to finish his degree. “I got lucky,” Winder said. “I came to VMI with a semester worth of credits.” On Hadra’s advice, he took advantage of summer school and worked with his professors to stay on track. So, in the spring semester of his 2nd Class year, he could take the courses he normally would have taken in his 1st Class spring semester.
His decision to ask the dean’s permission to report late for the first semester—just in case—turned out to be a good one. His “rookie ball” team, the Elizabethton (Tennessee) Twins, won the 2018 Appalachian League championship. “Immediately after the game, I drove the five hours home, picked up my gear, and drove two hours to VMI, getting back about a week late.” Looking back, Winder is glad he made the effort to graduate. “I’ve met other players who left school just one semester short of graduation, and I’ve realized the longer you are away from school, your chances of finishing diminish significantly.”
During the 2019 season, Winder played for the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels. The pandemic canceled the 2020 season, and Winder played for the Double-A Wichita Wind Surge and the Triple-AAA Saint Paul Saints in 2021.
This spring, he made the Twins’ starting roster, first as a reliever and then as a starting pitcher. Asked what he likes about life in Major League Baseball, Winder laughed, “No more 10-hour bus drives when the team travels.” Besides the more comfortable travel, Winder said, “I come to know the guys in the clubhouse, many of whom have been playing for several years, a few more than a decade. Their widely different experiences have given them a lot of insights into the game, and they’re a great resource for young players.”
Anything else he has liked? “Yes, the unbelievable support from the VMI family. It’s been cool to realize its members have embraced me, and I thank them for it.”
Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects
The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.
Victoria Ferris Social Media and Communications Strategist
The social media and communications strategist is responsible for creating compelling, audience-appropriate, multi-channel content for social media, and for monitoring the VMI Alumni Agencies' social media accounts. The strategist supports all communications efforts, including email marketing deployment and training, website updating, and video editing.