When Tiffany Rawson gave birth in March 2002, she chose a distinct and prophetic middle name for the baby boy.
Masyn Blaze Winn.
“Blaze is a color – its red,” Winn, now 20-years-old and a top infield prospect for the Cardinals’ said after receiving a call-up to Double-A Springfield this week.
“All my siblings, my brothers, we all have colors as our middle name. Blaze was just mine, it just happened to be a good fit.”
Call it mother’s intuition.
It’s impossible to think of a better adjective to describe what Winn does on the baseball field.
Masyn hit for a .349 average in 33 games with Peoria (High-A), stole 15 bases in as many attempts and he leads all Minor League Baseball with seven triples this season (Carson Williams, the Tampa Bay Rays’ 2021 first round pick also has seven).
Winn’s blazing start to the 2022 campaign convinced Cardinals’ brass it was time to advance the Texas native to the Texas League. If the first two games are any indication, Winn was ready for the promotion.
He went 1-for-3 at the plate with an RBI in his Double-A debut in Tulsa on Wednesday night, then topped it with a monster performance on Thursday.
Winn knocked two extra-base hits – a double down the left-field line in the fifth inning and an inside-the-park home run in the ninth – and finished the game with three RBIs and three runs scored.
A shortstop and lead-off hitter, Winn reunites with third baseman Jordan Walker to form an elite left-side of the infield in Springfield. The Cardinals’ top two picks in the 2020 MLB Draft became fast friends playing together – first at Hammons Field where the Cardinals’ invited both to attend the club’s alternate site during the COVID summer, and then in Palm Beach and Peoria last season.
“I’ve only played one game with them but it’s a really good group of guys down here,” Winn said prior to Thursday’s game. “If you look at the lineup 1-through-9 it’s pretty exciting…there’s a lot of power throughout the lineup, there’s a lot of really good hitters – and we honestly have some really good pitchers as well.”
“I think we’ve got a good group; I’m not surprised Cardinals’ fans are excited about it.”
Masyn’s bat-speed and baserunning prowess are impressive enough but his dominance as an amateur pitcher forced the player and organization to make a tough choice.
Under the tutelage of former big league hurler Anthony Young – a Houston native that pitched in six seasons during the 1990’s with the Mets, Cubs and Astros – Winn flourished on the mound.
He won both starts for Team USA’s 12-and-under silver medal winning club at the 2014 Pan American Championships and donned the stars and stripes again for the 15-and-under team at the 2017 Pan American AA Championships in Colombia.
Winn’s breakout performance as a dual-threat player in that tournament led Team USA to a co-championship but he played with a heavy heart. Young, a father-figure and mentor to Masyn, passed away that June from a brain tumor. He was 51 years old.
Less two months later, Winn won tournament MVP honors thanks to a blistering .522 batting average, eight RBIs and two steals plus a 1-0 record on the mound where he yielded just one earned run and struck out seven.
Masyn continued to aggravate hitters at Kingwood High School, northeast of Houston. He posted a 13-0 record with a 0.67 ERA and 117 strikeouts for the Mustangs his junior year, but his senior season was cancelled by COVID.
Winn committed to the University of Arkansas where he would have had ample opportunity to be a two-way player, but when the Cardinals’ selected him with the 54th overall pick both agreed to focus on developing as a position player first.
“It was more of a mutual (decision),” Winn said. “I wanted to pitch a lot more last year but just the tax on the body – it’s a lot playing shortstop and pitching, so we sat down and talked about it and we both thought it was best that I stick to short.”
“I think focusing on being a position player has been really beneficial this year.”
There is an ancillary benefit to having an elite pitching arm playing in the infield and it has scouts and baseball pundits drooling.
J.J. Cooper, writing for Baseball America in a story published last July, compared the velocity of Winn’s throws that recorded an out on the infield with the best arms in the Major Leagues.
The result? No comparison.
Winn’s fastest throw was clocked at 96.6 mph, and he recorded eight throws of 93.7 mph or faster. Padres’ superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. had the fastest throw in MLB at that point in the season – 93.1 mph. Winn would finish the 2021 campaign with 10 infield throws clocked at 95+ mph, including one throw at nearly 100 mph.
“I never really thought about (velocity) from shortstop but when I got to pro ball, they started radaring me across the infield,” Winn said. “I think I had just pitched for my whole life, so I had just kind of gotten used to it.”
The Double-A level presents a new challenge for Winn – a level of competition that has bedeviled one of his new teammates: Delvin Perez.
Perez was the Cardinals’ first round pick in 2016 – a shortstop with a slender build, soft hands, and quick feet. But Perez has struggled to drive the ball or reach base consistently and the arrival of Winn has bumped him from his defensive spot.
Perez, a .211 hitter with just four extra-base hits in 2022 played in right field on Wednesday and spelled Walker at the hot corner on Thursday.
But Masyn also expects to benefit from some friendly faces in Springfield.
Cardinals’ veteran Chandler Redmond, renowned for helping players refine their swing, worked with Winn during spring training and will be a regular mentor for him now.
Most of all though, the promotion to the Texas League brings Winn closer to home and to his biggest fan – his mom.
“She’s my rock, she’s my world,” Winn said. “She was a single mom until I was probably nine years old, ten years old…she played the mom and dad role for as long as I can remember. We’ve been so close my entire life, she’s been along with me for the whole ride.”
“There’s probably not going to be anybody, ever, more important in my life.”
Winn’s mother traveled to Florida last season but hasn’t seen Masyn play in person yet this year – something that she is already making plans to change.
While he’s comfortable and thriving as a full-time position player, Winn still speaks wistfully of toeing the rubber.
“I feel like you have control of the game almost, every play runs through you. That’s like the biggest thing for me – it’s like you don’t get a bigger adrenaline rush than whenever you’re on the mound for sure,” he said.
“Pitching is fun.”
The big club in St. Louis has been generous to position players wanting to pitch in 2022 and Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina each made headlines tossing the final inning of games this season. But the future Hall of Famers floated deliveries to the plate at 50-60 mph velocity.
Winn has no such concerns if the Redbirds ever call on him to close out a game.
“I wouldn’t be throwing no 50 (mph). That’s a fact.”
Andy Carroll is a freelance sports writer living in the Ozarks with his wife and four great kids. He loves St. Louis, toasted ravioli and minor league baseball. You can follow him on Twitter @carroll_sgf and Instagram @andycarroll505