Winston hitting his stride in minor-league short season

Published 12:03 am Monday, August 29, 2016

It didn’t take former Trinity Episcopal star Jake Winston long to realize he belongs in professional baseball.

On June 18, in his professional-baseball debut, Winston tossed a scoreless seventh inning for the Hillsboro Hops and tallied a strikeout, cementing his place in the professional ranks.

“When I first got out there, I didn’t know what to expect, and didn’t know what the competition was going to be like,” Winston said. “I walked off the field, and I said to myself, ‘This is no different than what I’ve been doing my whole life. You’re out here for a reason. Have the confidence you always have and do what you always do.’”

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After a stellar career at the University of Southern Mississippi, Winston was selected in June by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 17th round of the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft, realizing a dream come true for the former Saint.

Now, approximately two months into his first professional season, Winston finds himself on a team in the thick of a playoff race in short-season A-ball.

Entering play Sunday, the Hillsboro Hops trailed the Eugene Emeralds, the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Chicago Cubs, organization by two games.

Winston has served as a key piece in the Hops’ potential playoff run.

The former Golden Eagle serves as a late-inning relief pitcher for the “Bullpen Bandits,” where he’s amassed a 3.29 ERA in 27.1 innings pitched to go along with 29 strikeouts. Winston also has five saves to his credit.

“I’ve been able to keep the ball down,” Winston said. “I’m not trying to overthrow and blow it by everybody. I’m staying more directional to the plate, and I’ve gotten a lot of ground balls and some strikeouts.”

Winston said he has gained many memories in the early going of his professional career, but perhaps one outing stands out among the rest.

On Aug. 2, the right-handed hurler appeared in the Northwest League-Pioneer League All-Star Game, recording the final out of an 11-5 win for the Northwest League All-Stars.

“It was a really cool experience,” Winston said. “I was kind of surprised to get my name called (to be selected for the game). I felt like I deserved it, but I didn’t know what the odds were. But just being there with the other guys and getting to know some of the other guys and talking about the game, we all kind of meshed pretty well.”

The minor leagues can sometimes take a toll, Winston said, evidenced by just the two days off he and the Hops have had since the season opened. The Vidalia native continues to relish every moment as the newly-minted professional ball player.

“It’s a mental grind and physical, but being around 30 other great guys it makes it a lot easier,” Winston said. “The vibe I’ve had with my teammates has been cool. we’re all really close. Our bullpen bandits, we have T-shirts, which is really awesome, by the way. It’s awesome, it’s everything I expected it to be.”