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All American Game | Story | 12/16/2013

Winston: from Classic to Heisman

Patrick Ebert     
Photo: Perfect Game

Since the inception of the Perfect Game All-American Classic in 2003, the event has seen 79 of its participants make their Major League Baseball debuts. One more, Kyle Long, son of NFL Hall of Famer Howie, now plays right guard for the Chicago Bears.

Two of those big-leaguers, Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey, earned National League MVP honors each of the last two seasons. Posey also claimed Rookie of the Year honors in 2010, as did Jose Fernandez this past year, Bryce Harper in 2012 and Jeremy Hellickson in 2011.

Posey (2008), Harper (2010), Mike Zunino (2012) and Kris Bryant (2013) have all received the Golden Spikes Award recognizing college baseball's best player.

On Saturday, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston added one more accolade to the history of the Classic when he was named college football's most outstanding player as he received the Heisman Trophy at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City.

Florida State marched to a No. 1 ranking during a perfect 13-0 season when they outscored their opponents by an average of over 42 points a game. In other words, Florida State could spot their opponents six touchdowns and those teams could still walk away on the losing end.

Winston was the leader of the potent Seminoles’ offense, a red-shirt freshman who threw for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns, and added four more scores on the ground. He and his teammates now prepare for the VIZIO BCS National Championship game to be held on Jan. 6 at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif.

He not only stars on the football field, but also is a key member of the Florida State baseball team, and Winston's talents are as diverse in baseball as they are in football.

A participant of the 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic, playing with and against current minor league stars including Lance McCullers, Joey Gallo, Addison Russell and Lucas Giolito, Winston was the only member of the East team to collect a hit.

That hit was a sharp single off of left-hander Max Fried – the seventh overall pick of the 2012 MLB Draft – who was throwing 92-94 mph heat and a hammer curveball that allowed him to strike out every batter he faced in the top of the fourth inning not named Winston. Once he reached base, Winston promptly stole second, advanced to third on a passed ball, and then stole home, becoming the first – and only – player in the 11-year history of the Classic to do so.

So you probably get the idea already that Winston has game-changing speed and a knack for making plays.

The timed results at the 2011 Perfect Game National Showcase confirmed his speed when Winston ran the 60-yard dash in 6.59 seconds, one of the best of those in attendance; he threw 93 mph from the outfield and 92 off the mound as a pitcher. He also switch-hits, and displayed a surprisingly balanced and powerful swing from both sides of the plate, something you don't find in too many hitters at any level, much less one who is 17 years old and playing among the top 250 high school seniors in the nation.

Here's Winston's full report from the National:

Long lean athletic frame, deceptively strong. Outstanding and versatile athlete, can play all over the field and switch hits. Good bat speed from both sides, fluid swing through the ball, has some lift and pull to his approach, tends to be a bit still in his start, projects power. Outstanding baserunner, takes the extra base. 6.59 runner, very good outfield range, strong arm with good crow hop and footwork, quick infield actions, good hands, long actions but a flexible release, could play 3B in the future. Also pitches, deep long arm action, high three-quarters release with some effort, 90-92 mph with plus hard sinking life at times, throws both a curveball and slider with good spin and bite, slider is sharp and tight, big downer action on curveball, good idea how to pitch. Also one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country. Unique athlete, combines physical talent with surprising instincts and skills. High ceiling talent if chooses to continue to play baseball.

Winston attended 10 Perfect Game events in total, all of which were tournaments – aside from the Classic and the National Showcase – playing for the Team Alabama travel program. One of his teammates during that time was fellow PG All-American David Dahl, a first round pick in 2012 who is now a member of the Colorado Rockies organization. Winston also played alongside a handful of players currently making an impact at the college level, including Alabama's Georgie Salem and Mikey White and Auburn's Jordan Ebert and Dylan Smith.

Although Winston had plenty of suitors, he had yet to commit to a college at the time of the PG National Showcase, and recruiters knew he was much more than just a football player who happened to be good at baseball.

That’s a must,” Winston told Perfect Game's Jeff Dahn at the 2011 National Showcase. “If I can’t play both, I probably won’t go to school.

Prior to the 2012 MLB Draft, Perfect Game ranked Winston the 48th
 best high school prospect in his class, but MLB teams also had to contend with the fact that he was ranked the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by

While there are plenty of recent examples of baseball teams signing notable two-sport stars away from the gridiron – including Archie Bradley, Zach Lee and Bubba Starling – Winston's talents, in addition to the new bonus pools introduced by Major League Baseball, were too much for a team to overcome to get him in the fold. The Rangers did draft him in the 15th
 round in 2012, far too late in the draft for him to turn away from his commitment to Florida State.

Winston took to the baseball field first for the Seminoles, red-shirting his freshman year in football under the tutelage of now Buffalo Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel. Although he wasn't an everyday, full-time player, Winston saw action in 41 of Florida State's 64 games, posting a .235/.377/.345 slash line with six doubles and a pair of stolen bases while going 1-2 on the mound with a 3.00 ERA and a pair of saves.

Although Winston was unavailable for comment as he prepares for the BCS National Championship game, Mike Martin, Jr., assistant coach and head recruiting coordinator for the Florida State baseball team, was happy to talk about Winston's success.

This isn't just a guy that plays baseball for fun,” Martin said in regard to Winston's recent success. “He's really good at it and he helped us an awful lot last year, and we're expecting bigger things out of him this year. I really believe that will come to fruition, him being a bigger part of our team, whether that's as a closer, logging more innings on the mound, or getting more at-bats and putting up big numbers for us.”

As Winston has added strength to his 6-foot-4 frame, bulking up to 228-pounds after weighing in around 200 in high school, his power potential, as well as his arm strength, have also improved. His fastball, which sat in the upper-80s to low-90s in high school now consistently registers 93-95 on the gun, mixing in a nasty mid- to upper-80s slider to punch-out opposing hitters.

Martin spends a lot of his time during his offseason assisting his close friend Jimbo Fisher, Florida State's head football coach, with whatever tasks are deemed necessary. The two of them take recruiting trips together, not only to spend time with one another but to also pick each other's brain and share notes on players.

You're always looking for guys that can play regardless of the sport,” Martin said of his recruiting role. “You want guys that can turn, guys that can bend and (create) angles, have a bounce in their step, people that want to be out there. It's our job to make sure they really enjoy doing it, and I think that we're all chasing guys that are athletic and driven, and those are the guys you win with.”

Although Martin acknowledges the fact he has to work around Florida State's football schedule more so than the other way around, which is understandable since Winston is on a football scholarship. He's appreciative of the ways Fisher has arranged the spring football schedule to the benefit of the baseball program.

He will never miss any sort of football activity that is required by everyone else,” Martin said, “but all the other time he'll be with us. Jimbo will put up the spring practice schedule based upon our schedule and help us in that regard.

We only had two conflicts last year. One trip (to Virginia Tech), he had to miss that completely because there was no other way to get around the allotted practice days that they can have.”

Now with both a full year of baseball and football under his belt, Winston can expect to be used in a greater, expanded role for the Seminoles baseball team, although his coach is quick to recognize he and the rest of the baseball staff have to be careful in what they do.

I'd love to be in position where we DH him, just because it's kind hard to run a Heisman Trophy winner into a wall,” Martin said. “I shouldn't say he'll definitely close for us, but that's where we're projecting him. That's what we're going to try and do, mold him into a closer because all the stuff, the intangibles, are there. Nothing scares him.”

For football fans of the Florida State, history definitely favors the program as they aim for their third National Championship on Jan. 6 of the New Year at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif. The last two times the Seminoles claimed the championship – in both 1993 and 1999 – their leaders under center held similar profiles to that of Winston, and both also claimed college football's most distinguished individual honor, the Heisman Trophy.

In 1993 Charlie Ward guided Florida State to a 12-1 record, beating the No. 2-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl on their way to their first National Championship. Ward – deemed undersized by NFL standards and playing well before read-option offenses were implemented in the professional game that seemed to have opened the door for similar-sized quarterbacks – took his talents to the NBA where he enjoyed a productive 12-year career, 10 of which were spent with the New York Knicks.

Ward, a gifted all-around athlete similar to that of Winston, was also drafted twice by MLB teams – the Brewers in 1993 and the Yankees in 1994.

Chris Weinke's career was somewhat opposite of both Winston and Ward. Weinke was drafted in the second round by the Toronto Blue Jays coming out of high school and immediately began his pro baseball career. After six years spent in the minors, he returned to football, opting to honor his original commitment to Florida State (he was in the same recruiting class as Ward), and put an exclamation mark on his collegiate career with his own National Championship in 1999 in addition to winning the Heisman Trophy in 2000.

Weinke then enjoyed a five-year NFL career, most of which was spent with the Carolina Panthers, and he started 15 games as a rookie in 2001.

Florida State's baseball program has also boasted its fair share of impact players moving on to the next level. The most recent was Buster Posey, the 2012 National League Most Valuable Player, the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year and also a former PG All-American and PG National Showcase participant when he was in high school.

He has the drive, enthusiasm and leadership skills of Buster (Posey),” Martin said of Winston's intangible qualities. “He's a lot more vocal than Buster was, but he's as driven, he works his tail off to get better at the game, he's very coachable and he genuinely cares. And that's what separates a lot of guys. They think that they really care about the whole group when it's really and truly just about them. With those two, Buster and Jameis, there's no doubt that they genuinely care about everybody.

We didn't use him a whole lot last year, but he was a top-step guy, the first one out of the dugout and he would do anything to win a ballgame.”

Fans of any sport are quick to find quick and easy comparisons of players from the present and past to help paint a picture of what they can expect from the next wave of young stars. In addition to the likes of Ward, Weinke and Posey, two other names have been mentioned in discussions of Jameis Winston: Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders.

In the past, Winston hasn't shied away from expressing his desire to playing both sports at the highest level possible. While using names such as Jackson and Sanders seem extremely unfair to any young player, if any player has the complete package to make it happen, it very well may be Winston.

It's going to be one of those things where he goes pro in football, and I think he'll be a very high pick in football,” Martin said. “Who knows what the future holds, whether he wants to do the Bo Jackson thing, or the Deion Sanders thing, or not. It's very difficult to do as a quarterback, to do both.

But I know one thing, if things don't work out in football he definitely has a future in pro baseball.”

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