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Outfield jobs center on Winn

Randy Winn's spring showing will determine not only where he plays but where other Rays do.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 1999

The Rays want to see more of this from Randy Winn. He likely needs to better his on-base percentage if he wants to see more of the Rays. [Ts photo: Jonathan Newton]
ST. PETERSBURG -- The possibilities are perplexing and the combinations complex, but to Randy Winn it's all pretty simple.

"Either I'm on the big-league team or I'm not," Winn said. "And it depends on how I do."

Winn is the man in the center of the Devil Rays' outfield jumble. Within the next month, in what could their most significant decision this spring, the Rays will determine whether the 24-year-old is ready to be their starting centerfielder.

What they come up with will impact not only who starts in the outfield but also who makes the team.

If Winn is in, the Rays will have his blazing speed atop the order and a stronger defensive alignment with Quinton McCracken in leftfield. There will be an intense battle for playing time in right among Dave Martinez, Paul Sorrento and Bubba Trammell. Jose Canseco likely would spend most of his time at DH, and Mike Kelly and Rich Butler could be out of jobs.

If Winn isn't ready, McCracken will lead off and play center (assuming he fully recovers from a knee injury); there are likely to be platoons in left (Trammell and Sorrento?) and right (Martinez and Kelly?); and Butler might have a better shot to make the team.

And for Winn, it could be the same old Bull.

The Rays feel he needs to start somewhere, and if it's not for them then it should be for the Triple-A Durham Bulls, for whom he played just 29 games last season before his May 11 promotion.

"One thing we've got to do with Randy Winn is that he has to play, whether in the big leagues or in the minor leagues," outfield coach Billy Hatcher said. "You're looking at a kid who hasn't had that many minor-league at-bats (1,377 in four seasons). His upside is tremendous. But sometimes as an organization, you have to look at not what's best at the time for the organization but what's best for the future also. He's one of the guys who is our future."

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In a way, Winn may end up a victim of his own success. He was a late expansion draft pick from the Marlins who hadn't played even 100 games above Class A when he walked anonymously into spring training last February. But after he spent a relatively successful 41/2 months in the majors, it would be hard for him to hear that he needs to make up for lost development time and would be better served playing every day in the minors.

"I'd be disappointed in myself a little bit," Winn said. "On the other hand, there's obviously something I need to work on, and that'll give me the opportunity to improve what I need to.

"As a player, your goal is to be in the big leagues. I figure if you're there you'll probably get your shot eventually. Triple A seems so much farther away. You'd rather be (in the majors). Maybe you're not playing, but eventually you're going to get in there and get your opportunities and maybe you can turn things around that way. I guess it's however you want to look at it."

The Rays want him to improve as a leadoff hitter, learning to work deeper into counts and improve his .337 on-base percentage by walking and bunting more. Defensively, the focus is on getting to and getting rid of the ball more quickly. The 10 pounds of muscle he added to his slight 175-pound frame should help, too.

Winn was somewhat of a surprise last season, but he wasn't surprised at what he did. He began his big-league career on a tear and was hitting .353 as late as Aug. 4, but he finished at .278, dragged down by a 5-for-47 season-ending slump. His 26 steals led all rookies.

"I look at it as a starting point, something to build upon, not something to say, "Look at what I did!' I feel pretty good, but obviously there's some things I could have done better," Winn said.

How much better he does over the next 33 days will mean a lot. Winn is a smart guy, and he knows what's going on. He insists pressure won't be an issue. "I'm aware," he said, "but I don't think about it. I don't sit up at night and worry about it. There's nothing I can do."

The irony is that the situation puts the spotlight on the one Devil Ray who wants most to avoid it.

"I'm not real huge on being the center of attention," Winn said. "I like people to notice what I do and appreciate my talents and be noticed that way."

During the next month, you can be sure the Rays will be watching.


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