Red Sox pitching prospect Josh Winckowski was involved in a benches-clearing brawl in the ninth inning of an Arizona Fall League game between the Scottsdale Scorpions and Peoria Javelinas on Saturday afternoon.
Winckowski, making his sixth relief appearance of the Arizona Fall League season, recorded the final two outs of the eighth inning before being deployed back out for the ninth in hopes of securing an 11-7 win for the Scorpions in front of 705 spectators at Scottsdale Stadium.
As he came back out for the ninth, the right-hander immediately plunked the pinch-hitting Pirates prospect Canaan Smith-Njigba near the head and on the shoulder on a first-pitch fastball that was too far up and in.
Smith-Njigba took exception to this, promptly charging the mound and throwing a punch at Winckowski before taking the 6-foot-4, 202 pound hurler down to the ground and throwing another punch. This resulted in both the Javelinas and Scorpions’ benches clearing as players and coaches dashed on to the field.
According to Baseball America’s Josh Norris, who was on-hand for the debacle, it took umpires several minutes to separate the teams and break up the scuffle between Smith-Njigba and Winckowski. The umpires then convened with Arizona Fall League officials before making the decision to eject both players from the contest.
In Peoria’s dugout, Smith-Njigba could apparently be heard yelling about how something like this has happened two days in a row. That being the case because on Friday, Smith-Njigba’s teammate and fellow Pirates prospect Nick Gonzales was beaned by Scorpions reliever Matthew Peguero.
Additionally, as noted by Norris, the only other instance of a Scottsdale pitcher hitting a Peoria batter arose this past Thursday at Peoria Stadium when left-hander Seth Corry struck Phillies prospect Bryson Stott.
That said, what occurred on Saturday was rather unprecedented for the AFL. Smith-Njigba wound up getting replaced at first base by pinch-runner Jose Caballero, while former Red Sox prospect and current Giants right-hander Gregory Santos took over for Winckowski and put the finishing touches on an 11-7 victory for the Scorpions.
The older brother of standout Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Canaan Smith-Njigba is currently regarded by Baseball America as the 29th-ranked prospect in the Pittsburgh farm system. The 22-year-old was acquired by the Pirates in the trade that sent right-hander Jameson Taillon to the Yankees back in January.
Winckowski, meanwhile, is at the moment regarded by Baseball America as the No. 16 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking ninth among pitchers in the organization.
In February, the Red Sox acquired Winckowski from the Mets in the three-team, seven-player trade that jettisoned outfielder Andrew Benintendi to the Royals ahead of the start of spring training.
After a solid 2021 campaign spent between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester, Winckowski has posted a 6.55 ERA and 1.73 WHIP to go along with three strikeouts and four walks over six outings spanning 11 innings of work for the Scorpions in his first taste of Arizona Fall League action.
Per SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall, Winckowski was hovering around 98-99 mph with his heater on Saturday, which might explain why Smith-Njigba was not pleased with the location of the pitch that hit him.
The 23-year-old can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the second time in his professional career this winter if the Red Sox do not add him to their 40-man roster by the November 19 deadline to do so. He was left unprotected and went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft as a member of the Blue Jays organization last year.
(Picture of Josh Winckowski: Norm Hall/MLB Photos via Getty Images)