After two uneven years, Winn embracing chances in Rangers camp

February 28th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Just two springs ago, Rangers assistant general manager for player development Ross Fenstermaker described as one of the “most special pitchers in the organization.

The Rangers’ first-round pick out of Orange Lutheran HS (Orange, Calif.) in the 2018 MLB Draft, Winn has gone through a lot since that Minor League minicamp in 2022.

He was the Rangers' Nolan Ryan Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2021, when he held opponents to a .146/.239/.259 slash line and a 2.41 ERA over 86 innings. He had 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings that season between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock.

But Winn, who was once the best pitching prospect in the Rangers’ system, has had two full seasons of struggles in Triple-A between a 6.51 ERA in 2022 and a 7.22 ERA in '23.

“Honestly, it's been tough,” Winn said. “It's been really tough. You never want to go out and, honestly, be terrible. It's been a lot of growth. You learn what that feels like and how not to feel like that and how to build a different mentality. It’s showing up every day and still putting in the work, regardless of if the results are there or not.”

The results are still coming.

Winn’s first Cactus League outing of the spring wasn’t completely smooth sailing, but he did get out of a first-inning, bases-loaded jam by allowing just one run in the Rangers’ 4-2 win over the White Sox on Monday. After allowing a run in the first inning, he followed with two quick outs in the second inning before his day was done.

“I felt a little sped up in the first inning,” Winn said. “It doesn't help when you have the leadoff walk, but I was able to limit the damage. I was really excited, actually, to come in, and the nerves and anxiousness with the first outing of spring had me a little bit more amped up than usual. I definitely settled down in the second and felt better with where I was at.”

Winn has been a prospect in this organization for far longer than manager Bruce Bochy has been at the helm, but he knows that the 24-year-old could be a piece of the 2024 big league pitching staff.

“I heard he was a kid with a lot of potential and great stuff,” Bochy said of Winn when he first took over last year. “He was trying to get on track. He's got the equipment to pitch up here. He certainly gives us another option in the rotation or even as a long guy at some point, whether it's now or going into season. We think a lot of Cole. He has the velocity and breaking ball, and now he’s gotta put it all together. I think now is an important time for him to take that next step.”

In order to try to take that next step, Winn spent the offseason playing for the Criollos de Caguas in the Puerto Rican Winter League, looking to refine some of the things he worked on at the end of the 2023 season.

In seven games (six starts) in Puerto Rico, Winn allowed seven earned runs while striking out 24 batters in 24 innings.

“I felt like I was figuring out a lot of things at the end of the year last year, so I think I was just building on that and continuing to challenge myself and grow,” Winn said. “The only thing I can control is how I perform and how I do day to day, so I think that's the main focus for me right now. Just trying to put myself in a good spot to potentially make the team.”

Winn acknowledged that by being on the 40-man roster, there’s always a chance to compete for a spot on the MLB roster, whether that’s in the rotation or out of the bullpen. Bochy acknowledged that Winn is “coming along” and rebuilding his confidence after a few years that saw him stumbling. He’s got the talent, the pitches and the poise, but he just has to put it all together.

Winn is knocking on the door of the big leagues, but it’s not that simple. There’s pressure, sure, but Bochy wants him -- and all of Texas’ pitching prospects with a chance to make the club -- to embrace it. It’s time for Winn to step up and seize the opportunity.

“When you're getting the opportunity to make the club, hope is not a strategy,” Bochy said. “It’s having that will and that desire to impress enough to be on this club. What you want to see from these guys that come in is to go, ‘Hey, I'm gonna win this job.’ That's the attitude we want them to have, just taking charge and taking the bull by the horns.”

It’s a big spring for Winn to prove he can do it.

“I just want to put everything I have out there and show what I can do, and give the team the best version of myself every outing,” Winn said.