When Eric Borba first heard that Cole Winn would potentially be transferring to his program, he wasn’t sure what to think.
Initially, he didn’t even know the name of the uber-talented Colorado righthander who was pondering a move to the most prestigious region in the country for high school baseball.
“I got a call from my assistant coach about late July,” said Borba, the head coach of Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High. “It was about a week before the Area Code [Games] and he just said, ‘Hey, there’s a pitcher from Colorado who is potentially going to be coming out to OLu.’ I said, ‘What’s his name?’ He didn’t even know it at the time.”
It took no time at all for Borba and the rest of the program to realize the sort of talent that the Lancers would be getting with Winn’s transfer. Borba went to the Area Code Games to watch Winn pitch and saw one of the most dominant performances of any pitcher over the summer.
“Talking to his dad at the Area Codes, I said, ‘Man, that’s first-round stuff.’ ”
It was also Baseball America High School Player of the Year stuff. Winn joins MacKenzie Gore (2017), Dylan Bundy (2011) and Ethan Martin (2008) as the only pitchers to win the award in the past 10 years.
Winn’s move out west was part baseball, part business. His father Randy worked with a lot of clients in Orange County and decided that he would open up an office in the area. If Cole were going to move to the top prep baseball hotbed in the country along with that, well, that was just fine.
“I had to go ask Cole,” Randy remembers thinking. “‘Would you be willing to leave Colorado your senior year and go to a new school and see where that takes us?’ He didn’t even hesitate. He was like, ‘You mean I get to play baseball all winter long and then in the spring?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ And he goes, ‘I’m in.’”
Obviously thrilled at getting such a highly regarded talent (Winn ranked No. 16 in Baseball America’s top 50 high school prospects for the 2018 draft last summer), Borba was also concerned about potential issues that could come with the kid from Colorado.
“Any time you have a high-profile player transfer into your program, especially as a senior, it can be very difficult,” Borba said. “You worry about the chemistry of the team, especially after the stuff that we went through last year. The dynamic of our team just wasn’t real cohesive. There were a lot of talented players, but we couldn’t keep everybody happy, and then all of the sudden, hey, this kid is going to come in.
Borba stressed to Winn and his family how important team dynamic is at Orange Lutheran.
“I understand that you’re coming here and you want to up your draft status and everything else,” Borba told the Winns, “but it’s not going to work at Orange Lutheran if that’s your focus. If you’re on your own program, and it’s just about getting drafted. You really have to buy into your teammates and buy into playing for something bigger.”
Immediately, Borba knew that wasn’t going to be a problem with Winn, who was more concerned with helping the Lancers tally more victories than his own personal success or failure.
“I think above all else is his character,” Borba said. “The guy moved 1,000 miles and just had a tremendous impact on our program—not just the quality of our team, but he changed the culture in our program.
“His desire to win and his desire to be great just raised the level of the rest of the team. You could see the competitive fire in the guy when he takes the mound. It just seemed like no moment was too big for him, and every challenge that came in front of him he rose up and it just really set a tone for our program.”
Winn helped lead Orange Lutheran to its second straight National High School Invitational championship and was the most impressive pitcher in a field that included fellow first-round pick Matthew Liberatore. He struck out nine batters in Orange Lutheran’s opening round game against Florence (Ala.) High and didn’t allow a ball to leave the infield.
It wasn’t just the one high-profile event that established Winn’s credentials. He routinely took the ball for the Lancers and was arguably the most consistent pitcher in the nation. He went 6-2, 0.25 through 55 innings, with 93 strikeouts and just eight walks. Winn allowed just two earned runs on 21 hits
His consistent dominance compelled the Rangers to make him the 15th overall pick in the 2018 draft. He was the first player selected out of California.
“The way he performed with the expectations on him, he did such a great job,” Randy Winn said. “He really did. He never let the stuff bother him and he had every right to. I was waiting for one game for him to not make it out of the second or third inning, just blow it. But he just never did. He stayed consistent, and I think it’s a testament to him on how hard he really worked to get there.”
One of the biggest developments with Winn was his 12-to-6 curveball, which grades as plus and is the most fearsome pitch in a repertoire that has four offerings. Winn credits pitching coach Mike Cosgrove for helping him figure out the “spike” grip of the pitch but showed a preternatural ability to develop feel for the offering immediately.
Winn mastered his curveball so quickly that, according to Borba, he dropped his slider usage and lost feel for the pitch.
Seeing how effective the harder breaking ball was previously, Borba urged him to continue to working on his slider. So Winn started throwing flat ground sessions almost every day in order to develop feel for his pitches, and he reintroduced his slider to his arsenal almost immediately.
“His mindset, just his mental makeup of being able to pick up on things and develop things . . . I think it speaks to his aptitude,” Borba said. “I feel like he got better and better as the year went on. He really learned what it takes.
“He’s more than just a great pitcher—he’s a leader, which was really exciting for me as a coach. Because you have to have that. Great teams are led by players who are great leaders, and he became one of those right away.”