When he got selected by the Cardinals in the second round of the shortened 2020 MLB draft, it didn’t take long for Masyn Winn to get excited about the class of which he was a part. From what he remembers on his draft day, it only took him a few minutes to see what the future had in store.
“Obviously I didn’t know what team I was going to, but ... we picked up Jordan Walker in the first round,” Winn said last July before the All-Star Futures Game. “And then about 10 minutes later, my other buddy Tink (Hence) got picked and that’s kind of when it really was like, ‘Man, like I get to go out there and play baseball with my best friends.’”
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Before Winn, Walker, and Hence were drafted by the Cardinals in 2020, and before they ascended as prospects, the 20-year-olds first got to know each other as high school athletes despite hailing from different states.
Hence (Arkansas) recalls meeting Walker (Georgia) when he was around 15 or 16 years old during an MLB-organized showcase event. Walker says he first met Winn (Texas) at an event held at IMG Academy in Florida in 2019. At times they teamed up during different tournaments. Other times, they didn’t. With Winn being a two-way player, Walker said he didn’t face either of his current teammates when they were prep pitchers.
“I was fortunate not to face Masyn or Tink,” Walker said at the recent Cardinals Winter Warm-up. “They were really good and they probably would have made me look bad in high school.”
Now, as developing players, they are a part of the Cardinals’ future. At the same time, their relationships have grown in the process.
“I know that we’re are different players, but we kind of have the same interests,” Hence said during the Warm-up. “We all like to play the game, watch games, and really, we kind of clicked better than expected.”
Since getting drafted, the three had not been on the same minor-league team at the same time until last fall. Walker, an outfielder, spent all of 2022 with Class AA Springfield. Winn, a shortstop, joined him after he was promoted from Class A High-Peoria at the end of May. Hence pitched for Class Low-A Palm Beach and saw limited innings as the righty builds up his workload on the mound.
But they’ve been able to keep up with each other’s growth.
“Ever since I saw (Hence), I knew he was a player. … He was up to 96 (mph) as like a 16-year-old,” Winn said. “So seeing him progressing and starting to fill out a little bit and be more consistent with this stuff has been amazing.
“And as far as Jordan, I didn’t know him too well before we got drafted, but going to the alt-site (in Springfield, Missouri in 2020) and getting to meet him in person and watching him play every day, I’m not going to say he came in a little boy because he was 6-5, 230 (pounds), but I mean, right now, he’s a man amongst boys is what it is what it feels like out there.”
Their first experience playing together in a professional game came in the Arizona Fall League in which Hence, Walker and Winn were the three youngest Cardinals prospects sent to the “finishing school” for prospects.
The three, along with five other Cardinals prospects, played for the Salt River Rafters. They’d spend anywhere from seven to eight hours a day at the field playing against and alongside some of the top prospects across the minors. Away from the field, the three did what many 20-year-olds would be doing — playing video games.
“Like all of us in the same room, nobody was talking to each other and we’d always be playing video games,” Walker said. “(Those are) some things that we do but it’s just our way to connect with each other. It’s real special for us.”
After they each found success in Arizona, Hence, Walker, and Winn were selected to play for the National League in the annual Fall Stars game.
Despite the AL vs. NL format, the exhibition game gave Walker and Hence the rare opportunity to face each other. Brought in to pitch for the AL with two outs in the ninth inning and Walker waiting on deck, Hence allowed a single to the first batter he face to set the stage for the matchup. Hence threw Walker a first-pitch fastball that the outfielder jumped on and sent to the right-field warning track for a flyout falling just short of a home run.
“Facing a Cardinals prospect, man, it was really fun,” Walker said in December. “I said some words to him before that at-bat. ... The outcome wasn’t what I was focusing on, it was just the joy of being able to face Tink. I had never faced him before. I wouldn’t have it any other way than facing him in a setting like that one.”
Winn, Walker, and Hence all received non-roster invitations for spring training. Walker will have a chance to compete for a spot on the Cardinals’ opening-day roster as an outfielder — a position he shifted to in August. Meanwhile, Winn, whose timeline to get to the majors is not too far behind, and Hence will get opportunities to impress in front of big-league coaches.
Their respective arrivals to majors may not overlap, but their potential reunion as teammates provides some excitement for the trio moving forward.
“I mean it’s great,” Hence said when asked about the possibility of playing his professional career alongside Walker and Winn. “It’s really great to just sit back and think about (it). You don’t want to look too far ahead. You take it one day at a time, but just to look at the future, it’s pretty bright.”