A Giant surprise for a local catcher

Posted at 12:56 AM, Feb 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-27 09:20:31-05

Matt Winn was a good enough catcher at J.R. Tucker to be a four-year letter winner. He was good enough at VMI to set school records and be named first-team All-American his senior year. And he was good enough to be drafted in the 14th round last year by the San Francisco Giants, even if he wasn't sitting by the phone waiting for that call from the big leagues.

"I only met the Giants' scout once the last year I was playing [at VMI]" Winn explained. "I saw my name come across the board and I started getting phone calls. I had no clue. I was in my living room watching TV and my mom came in and said, 'Oh my God! Your name just popped up!'"

After his VMI season ended, Winn played 36 games between the rookie league and the Giants' Class A affiliate in Augusta, Georgia where Winn batted .275 in 20 games with 10 RBI. A decent start to his career, but nothing that would have indicated what was to come in January.

Normally, as a rookie, Winn would have reported to minor league training camp in Scottsdale which begins on March 5th. But, the Giants have 32 pitchers in their major league Spring Training camp which officially began on February 23rd, and they all need someone on the other end of their pitches. So Winn was invited to come to the big league camp and be one of the seven catchers needed.

Matt Winn

Matt Winn

"Honestly, I wasn't as excited as I should have been when I got the call," Winn said. "And then it sunk in that 'I'm going to big league camp! That's pretty cool!'"

"It's been great being here and playing with all these big leaguers like Buster Posey and Hunter Pence."

It's enough to intimidate anyone, especially a 23-year-old rookie with three dozen pro games under his belt. But intimidating younger players isn't how the Giants operate as an organization.

"When you take a step back, you say 'Wow, these guys are really good,'" Winn said. "But they are very down to earth. They want to make you feel like you're part of the team."

"They tell us all the time: 'If you get called up [to the major league team], you're going to be called upon to play, and we want you to feel like a part of the team.'"

Matt Winn

Matt Winn

Winn caught Giants starter Jake Peavy on his first day in camp, but outside of that, hasn't had a chance to catch any of the other big league starters. That's a job that, understandably, belongs to Posey who will work with them throughout the season. But Winn has caught several of the rising pitchers in the Giants' organization, some that have and will call the Diamond home at some point in their careers.

Winn has played at the Diamond himself, hitting his first collegiate home run there with VMI against VCU. But it did take him a few minutes to realize that being drafted by the Giants could likely mean he will bet another chance to play in front of his hometown crowd.

"All my friends called and said 'Dude, I can't wait to watch you play at The Diamond.'" Winn said. "I had to tell them to relax because it might be a few years. But I'm really excited. It would be great to be at home and have all my friends there. But I'm just excited to go out there and play, no matter where it is."

"It's been a dream come true," he said.