Winn learns from Cards legends to prep for Opening Day role

February 22nd, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- is the No. 1 prospect in the Cardinals’ organization, according to MLB Pipeline, because of his defensive and bat-to-ball skills in the Minor Leagues. His role with the Major League club will be significant in 2024. Why? He is slated to be the Opening Day shortstop on March 28 against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

For Winn, 21, getting the starting nod is preseason talk. The exhibition season doesn’t start until Saturday when the Cardinals play split-squad games against the Marlins and Mets. The spring games will prove if Winn is worthy of the Opening Day spot.

Winn hasn’t forgotten how he performed after he was called up to the big leagues last August. He went 21-for-122 (.172) with two home runs and 12 RBIs. Winn acknowledged that he was anxious at the plate. This offseason, he worked with hitting coach Turner Ward and assistant hitting coach Brandon Allen about putting himself in a good position to hit.

“I try not to think about [starting] too much. I haven’t looked at a depth chart or anything,” Winn said. “I don’t want to go in here thinking it’s my spot. I want to go out there and earn a spot. I didn’t hit very well in the big leagues last year. I think I have to show up to Spring Training ready to swing and figure out the Opening Day roster from there.”

While in camp, Winn is learning from the best. There’s Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, who is a guest instructor, and Cardinals Hall of Famer José Oquendo, the team’s coordinator of instruction.

“Listening to [Smith] and Cheo [Oquendo], those guys have put some work in,” Winn said.

Working with Smith is a dream come true for Winn, who idolized “The Wizard” while growing up in Texas. While he was not around during Smith’s playing days during the 1970s, ’80s and '90s, Winn learned about Smith’s career from his stepfather, Earl Luckett. When they get together, Winn and Smith often talk about life on and off the field. Smith is known for taking Winn and his teammates out to dinner.

From a defensive standpoint, Winn has worked closely with Oquendo since the former became a professional ballplayer in 2020. Oquendo's advice to Winn is straightforward: “Just keep it simple, stupid.”

“That’s a big saying we have around here,” Winn explains. “Cheo is all about the fundamentals. We are never working on diving plays, never working on the sliding plays or the [Derek] Jeter throws. He is always about the basics. Get the fundamentals down and everything else will come after that. It’s hard not to want to be a sponge around that guy. He is so smart.

“The same thing goes for Ozzie being around. … He is such a great human being. He understands the magnitude of who he is, but at the same time, he is truly humble, and he is there for us. Having [him and Oquendo] around at the same time -- that’s the best middle infield duo probably of all time -- just listening to them and talking ball is amazing.”

Smith loves Winn’s work ethic and attitude. Smith went so far as to say that Winn is mature beyond his years.

“He is an old soul," Smith said about Winn. “I think it’s because of his parents and his baseball background. His stepdad is really into baseball. [Winn] has a real baseball background and a real appreciation for the game itself. He enjoys the process. The process is practicing, working hard to get to that next level. He is one of those people you don’t have to say, ‘You need to be doing this’ or ‘You need to be doing that.’ He is asking the right questions.”

Smith and Oquendo are not the only people he looks up to; Luckett is No. 1 in his life. Not only did he teach him the game of baseball and its history, Luckett taught Winn how to cook Cajun food. Over the years, Luckett has given Winn sound advice. Winn never forgot the biggest piece of advice he gave him: “Never be satisfied in every aspect of life.”

“Man, he is my stepdad. In my eyes, however, he is my dad,” Winn said. “He has been around forever. He started off as my baseball coach. I still call him Coach Lucky. He has been amazing for me. He taught me the game. He taught me how to play it the right way and hard.

“Obviously, him being a Black man, I grew up looking up to him. I wanted to be just like him. For me, my stepdad is probably the biggest influence besides my mom. I’m truly glad to have him in my life.”