July 1, 2002
by Paul Smith
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - First, Randy Winn had to prove himself to Rays manager Hal McRae. Now he will get a chance to show the baseball world what he can do at the Major League All-Star Game.
But his Devil Rays teammates say they've known all along how talented Winn is.
"He's been a good player ever since I've been here," said Greg Vaughn, last year's Tampa Bay All-Star. "I don't think he's improved that much, he just showing what he can do with five at-bats a day."
Winn was chosen for the AL All-Star team on Sunday and will go to the game on July 9 in Milwaukee to represent the Rays, but he started the season not knowing if he would have a full-time job.
"I expected him to be a 350 at-bat guy," McRae said.
Since being picked from the Marlins in the expansion draft in Nov. 1997, Winn had not gotten more than 338 at-bats with the Rays until last season. In 2001, he hit .273 with six homers, 50 RBIs and 12 steals in 429 at-bats. Already this season, Winn has six homers, 39 RBIs and 15 steals and is hitting .306 in 307 at-bats.
Winn said he had two conversations with McRae before the 2002 season about playing time but said he didn't use the skipper's opinion of him as a part-time player as motivation.
"Not really, I wasn't surprised by what he said," Winn said. "There was a time (between the 2000 and 2001 seasons) that I wasn't sure if I was ever going to play with this team again. They had just traded for Jason Tyner and I wasn't sure if they were going to release me during the offseason or what.
"But I kept doing what I do and eventually got a chance to play more."
Vaughn said he told Winn just how important the opportunity was.
"Me and Randy had some talks and I said, 'You have all the ability in the world. Don't let them tell you that you are a part-time player.' " Vaughn said. " 'My question is, do you want it or do you not?' "
Vaughn said he has seen several talented players come and go.
"It's been a revolving door ever since I've been here and left-handers don't even get a chance to hit against lefties," Vaughn said. "Once you've been labeled and you get a chance to take advantage, if you don't, you haven't proven them wrong."
Winn started the season hitting .151 in the first eight games, but has hit .326 in 64 games since.
"The biggest difference in (being a full-time player) is whether you go 5-for-5 or 0-for-5 with five strikeouts, you don't feel like you have to impress somebody or do something big to stay in the lineup," Winn said.
He has stayed in the lineup this season, but, before June, he hit anywhere from second to seventh in the lineup and played a little in right field as well as center. Winn has really taken off in the month of June, especially since McRae moved him to the leadoff spot. Winn broke the team record for hits in June with 42 and was third in the AL in hitting in June at .358. He also was among the leaders in interleague batting, with 30 hits.
McRae said moving Winn to leadoff was not exactly a divine vision he had one day.
"I didn't have anybody else," McRae said. "It wasn't an ingenious idea. It was sort of a research and development thing. You are going for one thing and you might get something else. Hey, look what I got!"
McRae might have been pleasantly surprised but right fielder Ben Grieve agreed with Vaughn that Winn has had the ability all along.
"He played well last year but didn't get that many at-bats," Grieve said. "He hasn't changed that much. He's been that good. He's pretty deserving [of the All-Star spot]."
Grieve added that Winn also has been good to play alongside in the outfield.
"I like playing alongside him," Grieve said. "The communication is easy with him. And he's not going to try to cut you off to catch balls. He's got good speed and an accurate arm."
McRae said he thinks Winn has improved his defense.
"He's always been a smart player but his jumps have gotten better," McRae said. "He charges the ball well and gets assists every year."
In fact, Winn leads AL outfielders this season with nine assists. He also has become an efficient base stealer.
"He has been caught four times this year and two were when he was caught going past the bag at second, so he really has been caught only twice," McRae said. "His jumps are better, his leads are better, his overall game has improved."
Second baseman Brent Abernathy said Winn is the perfect player to represent the Rays at the game this year.
"If you took a poll in this clubhouse, 24 guys would say Randy Winn should go to the game," Abernathy said. "The only guy who wouldn't would be Randy Winn. That's the kind of guy he is. He's very quiet. He's very humble. But, at the same time, he's very confident."
McRae said he really doesn't mind Winn proving him wrong.
"It's a win-win situation," McRae said. "He wins and I win. Consistency is the thing that the manager is looking for, the ability to overcome the little things. He's had that so far. On any team you have guys who you know you can win with. I can win with this guy, he's one of the unselfish players."