Giants spring training Day 5: Winn enjoys ‘surreal' week


SCOTTSDALE -- There's often a spring adjustment for young ballplayers who schedule their lives around night games but find themselves in the weight room at 7 a.m. once February rolls around. Matt Winn isn't having any issues in his first week with the big leaguers. The schedule so far has been a breeze compared to the last five years of his life.

Winn, a catcher who is in big league camp for the first time, is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute. His days there started with "formation" at 7 a.m., meaning cadets had to line up and salute the flag as it was going up for the day. Then came a march to breakfast and a string of early-morning classes. Baseball practice followed a quick lunch, and he was back in formation by 7 p.m. as the flag came down before a march to the mess hall for dinner. Curfew was at 11:30, with the hours between dinner and lights-out spent catching up on studying that had been pushed back by baseball practice and VMI traditions. 

"I did that for five years ... 7 (a.m.) to 11:30 (p.m.) were pretty busy," he said Sunday, smiling as he ticked off the daily schedule. "It's definitely a weird transition (being a professional athlete). I used to read school books and writer papers on the bus. It's a lot more relaxed now. I can focus on baseball."

The 23-year-old finally has a chance to sit back and take in his surroundings, and he's loved what he's seen in five days at Scottsdale Stadium. Winn has caught bullpens from a number of veterans, including Jake Peavy. He has gone through drills with Buster Posey, paying close attention to see what he can pick up.

"The whole experience has been so awesome for me," he said. "It's like surreal. I don't understand ... it's cool. It's really cool."

Catchers reach big league camp earlier than others since the Giants need plenty of help receiving the 30-plus pitchers in camp, but Winn isn't just a random set of shinguards. He wasn't drafted until the 14th round last year, but he's already opened eyes in the front office and is said to have a big fan in Brian Sabean. Winn posted a .275/.325/.420 slash line in 20 games at Low-A Augusta last season and -- at 6-foot-1 and a rock solid 230 pounds -- physically fits the mold the Giants look for in their backstops (with neatly-combed brown hair, he could easily one day join Twitter's "Buster Posey Clone" Club). The Giants feel they may have gotten a steal in Winn, their first ever pick out of VMI. 

Winn hit .304 with 14 homers in his final collegiate season and was a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, given annually to the top backstop in Division I. He's eager to see what he can do now that baseball is the only thing on his schedule, but he hasn't fully let go of those long days. He thinks VMI has him well-prepared for the grueling minor league season.

"It helped me a lot last year," he said. "Later in the season (at Augusta) I felt great. I had my second wind. I'm used to having no sleep." 

HEALTH UPDATE: Sergio Romo is expected to throw off a bullpen mound on Thursday or Friday. The Giants are slow-playing it with Romo, who is the only pitcher who hasn't thrown a bullpen session thus far. 

FAMILIAR FACE: Conor Gillaspie is back in camp, and today he opened up about the issues he had in his first run with the Giants. Like, really opened up.

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Juan Gutierrez (61 appearances for the Giants in 2014) signed a minor league deal with the Nationals. Also, Pablo Sandoval is answering familiar questions. We talked to the manager today about how this has been a drama-free camp, and part of it has to do with roster turnover. Sandoval's weight was a huge story every spring for the better part of a decade. The Giants are just fine with the fact that it's no longer their concern.

LIGHTER SIDE: If the Giants needed a reminder of just what they're getting with Johnny Cueto, MLB Network offered a helping hand on Sunday morning. The Kansas City Royals World Series film was playing and it was on several clubhouse TVs, including the one closest to Cueto's locker. He watched a bit, and he couldn't hide a huge smile. Later, that smile was present throughout much of a bullpen session. Cueto definitely stands out; standing a few feet from young prospects letting loose, he appeared to be throwing somewhere in the low 80s. He treats these sessions like a game of catch, focusing on minor mechanical issues and working in his quick-pitch and "wiggle." Cueto did let it loose a couple of times, and he smiled just about every time he hit the center of Buster Posey's target.

"It's more old-school," Bruce Bochy said of Cueto's session. "When guys came to camp back then the first two or three sessions were about trying to find your arm speed."

QUOTABLE: Speaking of arm speed, there are some serious fastballs coming through the system. Bochy noted that the "kids" in camp just keep getting bigger and stronger. "They're big guys and they're in great shape," he said. "We've got hard-working guys that come into camp in great shape. It's a trend."

Even in my five years covering baseball, this has changed. Guys like Hunter Strickland and Josh Osich are the norm in camp now, and young prospects like Tyler Beede (who put on 30 pounds) and Trevor Brown (who added 12) head into the offseason with specialized plans. It's noticeable when a guy is out of shape in any form, and there are a couple of known names here who might get sent down to minor league camp earlier than expected if coaches decide send a message.

Contact Us