By Rob Rains
It was last October, at a Perfect Game event in Jupiter, Fla., when Masyn Winn was playing shortstop and Tink Hence was on the mound for the Arkansas Sticks that the story of their friendship, and competitiveness, really begins.
They had become teammates a few months before that, at a tournament in Arizona, and formed a quick bond. One is outspoken and one is quiet and reserved. One is from Texas and one from Arkansas, but the two would-be high school seniors, both committed to the University of Arkansas, soon learned they were more similar than they were different, especially on a baseball field.
“We hit it off and got really close,” Winn said.
Said Hence, “From the first day on it was like he was one of my closest friends.”
One common trait that the two share is the desire to become the best baseball players they can be, even if it means trying to out-do each other, which is exactly what happened at the tournament in Jupiter.
Playing shortstop, Winn was in a great position to watch as Hence carved up the Orlando Scorpions, the top-ranked summer team in the country.
“Every other pitch or so, I would look over at our second baseman and say, ‘Man this dude is throwing some gas right now,’” Winn recalled. “It was crazy. He’d throw a curveball to strike a guy out and it would just break my mind. I kept telling him, ‘You’re dirty bro. Just keep doing what you’re doing. They’re not going to hit you.’
“I knew he was throwing hard. I was more excited he was mowing down their lineup. It was a very good team and he shut them down. He’s a very easy guy to play behind and he’s very fun to watch.”
It was after the game when Winn learned that the scouts’ radar guns had clocked the 17-year-old Hence’s fastball at 96 miles per hour.
“I said, ‘No way,’” Winn said. “He was absolutely dicing and I was so happy for the dude.”
Winn, the two-way prospect who was scheduled to start on the mound for the Sticks the following day, then had a personal message for Hence.
“I told him, ‘I’m not going to lie to you dude. I think I’m going to beat you tomorrow,’” Winn said. “He just said, ‘We’ll see.’”
Chase Brewster, the head coach of the Sticks program that includes multiple teams in different age groups, picks up the story as Winn was coming back to the dugout the next day after striking out the side in the first inning.
“Somebody told him he hit 98 (mph),” Brewster said. “He looked at Tink and said, ‘Told you.’”
Added Winn, “Tink came up to me and said, ‘I thought I was throwing hard yesterday but you had to go and one up me.’ It was funny.”
The Cardinals – who selected Winn and Hence nine picks apart in last month’s amateur draft – hope that in the years to come there will be a lot more moments and days like that.
“I’m sure this will be a story over the next five to eight years that will be told over and over, of how they were on the same summer team, the same college commitment, got drafted by the same team and hopefully will be in the big leagues together,” Brewster said. “I’m proud of them. They worked hard for it and I know they are both going to do great things.”
The eye of a scout, and a coach
Dirk Kinney, an area scout for the Cardinals whose territory includes Arkansas, has been observing Hence ever since he saw him pitch in the state tournament as a sophomore.
“I was there to watch another guy,” Kinney said. “Tink was maybe 5-10, 140 pounds and was throwing 86 to 88 and the arm really worked. You made sure you didn’t forget about him.”
Kinney became friends with Hence’s father and knew about his older and younger brothers in Pine Bluff, Ark. Hence’s given name is Markevian but he has gone by the nickname Tink since he was a young boy.
“My parents used to call me Stinker when I was little,” Hence said. “My dad was like, ‘We can’t keep calling him that,’ so they started calling me Tink. I’ve run with it ever since.”
In addition to his duties with the Cardinals, Kinney has spent parts of the last three summers as a coach with the Sticks in tournaments around the country. Hence was on the team he coached for a week in Arizona in 2018 and was on the team again last July.
That was when Winn, from outside of Houston, joined the team. His previous summer team had disbanded, and he talked his mother into letting him join the Sticks because several of the players were committed to Arkansas, like Hence, and potentially he could be playing with them in college.
Kinney had seen Winn before, at another showcase event, but did not have the relationship with him that he had with Hence. The Cardinals’ area scout for Texas, Jabari Barnett, was the organization’s main contact with Winn.
It didn’t take long for Kinney to take a liking to Winn, however, as he observed him on and off the field during the week-long tournament.
“Tink is very quiet and Masyn is very outgoing,” Kinney said. “Tink keeps to himself and Masyn is a very high-energy player, which I enjoy. They are both very businesslike on the field.”
Brewster watched the interaction between the two as well, knowing Winn had joined his team following an off-field incident that left some questions.
“Masyn had gotten a bad rap with people saying he had an attitude problem and this and that,” Brewster said. “Once we got him I saw it wasn’t true. He’s the greatest leader I’ve ever been around and the greatest teammate I’ve ever seen and those aren’t just clichés, it’s true.
“Dirk got to see him for six days, and we all stayed in the same place. He got to see what kind of kid he was. He’s not a kid who is going to struggle in pro ball. He’s going to make it. I don’t think he will let anybody stop him.
“Masyn is not going to let you have a bad day. He’s going to will a team to victory.”
Hence was on the mound, with Winn again at shortstop, in the championship game of the Arizona tournament. The Sticks likely would have won the game, but Kinney had to take Hence out after four innings because he was scheduled to pitch again in just a few days at the East Coast Pro showcase event.
“Tink was about as dominate as you could be for four innings,” Kinney said. “Masyn made some highlight plays. It was a fun game. That’s when I saw how competitive they were. They got after it pretty good. They sort of fed off each other.
“They were really respectful kids that play hard. I respect that Masyn didn’t dodge a mistake and fessed up to it. They both come from really good families. Tink’s father has worked nights for years and Tink has had to be a very independent kid and do a lot of stuff on his own.”
Being able to be on the field, in the dugout, at the hotel swimming pool or competing in ping-pong with the players on the Sticks gave Kinney a different perspective than if he was observing only games and practices from the bleachers.
“You can tell them, ‘Let’s see if you can bury this breaking ball, or let’s see if you can go fastball up,’” Kinney said. “If they are hitting and throwing you away, ‘Show them you can pound the ball to the right center field gap.’
“After the games we go eat and then I get on the computer and start typing in all the notes. It’s still scouting. I just get to be a lot closer and also being a former college coach I just try to help where I can.”
Brewster said having Kinney on the staff also served as a motivating tool for him with the players.
“When I get mad at those kids some times when we don’t play hard, if they don’t know Dirk, I will tell them, ‘You’ve got one of the Cardinals’ scouts here in your dugout and you don’t even run out a ground ball for him.’ You never know who’s watching.”
Kinney doesn’t advertise the fact that he is a scout for the Cardinals when he is working with the Sticks.
“If he hadn’t told me I never would have known,” Winn said. “The dude is just a baseball guy to the core. He loves coming out there and teaching us. We hit it off heavy. He loved me and I loved him.”
Hence has the same feelings about his relationship with Kinney.
“He was a coach but at the same time he was interacting with all the kids,” Hence said. “We could sit there and have fun around him. He’s just a cool guy. He was just a guy you could always go to.”
Already secure in his friendship with Kinney, Hence quickly learned that finding another friend like Winn brought out a new side of him, at least when the two were together.
“He was just a very chill dude,” Winn said of Hence. “I love the dude to death. Over that week, we just hung out and did a lot of talking. Tink is very quiet with people he doesn’t really know. I feel like with me he talks a lot more. We just hit it off.”
Said Hence, “We just started talking about anything. It was kind of easy for us to get to know each other.”
“A dream come true”
As the months after they were last together in Jupiter went by, Winn and Hence stayed in touch. The coronavirus wrecked both of their plans for a big senior season, and each was uncertain about what would happen in the baseball draft.
The first night came and went, and none of the teams called either of their names.
As the teams regrouped for the start of the second round the next night, Winn and Hence were both anxious. So too were Kinney and Brewster.
There were 16 teams with a pick before the Cardinals, who had the 54th overall selection. Those teams included the Mets and Brewers, picking directly ahead of the Cardinals.
“We knew the Brewers loved Tink and we knew the Mets loved Masyn,” Brewster said. “You kind of know who likes who. We were just sitting there, kind of hoping they could go to the same place so they come up through the ranks together.”
Kinney wasn’t certain either would get to the Cardinals.
“I didn’t expect either one of them to last that long,” he said. “I thought both were in the 35 to 50 range. We just made sure we had our ducks in a row.”
When both the Mets and Brewers went with college players, Winn was sitting there for the Cardinals.
“I was so happy and super excited,” Winn said. “I ran upstairs to do a quick interview and while I was there my brother ran in the room and said, ‘Tink just got drafted.’ I said, ‘Great, where?’ and he said, ‘To the Cardinals.’ I was like, ‘No way.’ It made me even happier. Us being teammates is going to be a blast.”
Hence was watching the draft at his home.
“When I saw Masyn get picked by the Cardinals, for some reason I just got a feeling in my head that I was going to get picked too,” Hence said. “It was crazy when they called my name. Something in my head told me to look up right at that moment.
“Five minutes later Masyn called me. It was crazy. It was a dream come true.”
It was a big night for Kinney too, who knows that an area scout can put in long hours, drive thousands of miles each spring to watch games and not have his team select any of his recommended players. It goes with the job.
“I don’t know that it will happen again in my lifetime,” he said. “But I’m happy for it happening this time. It’s pretty wild. It’s exciting.
“I tip my cap to Flo (scouting director Randy Flores) for taking very athletic high school kids who should be fun to watch the next several years. Jabari was dealing with Masyn and they had a really good relationship and that allowed us to believe in him.”
As happy as he was for both Winn and Hence, Brewster was just as thrilled for Kinney, who was a groomsman in his wedding.
“He’s one of the most humble and gracious guys I’ve ever met,” Brewster said. “It’s a blessing it worked out with these two kids but as an individual Chase Brewster is happy that Dirk Kinney had a chance to draft two of the highest rated guys in the country who have a chance to play for a long time. It’s a scout’s dream.”
Looking to the future
A couple of weeks after the draft, Winn and Hence found themselves in St. Louis on the same night. Winn had already signed his contract, and Hence was in town to take his physical before signing his contract the following day.
“He came up to my room at the hotel and we played Playstation for like 2 ½ hours,” Winn said. “We just talked a lot about everything, our futures. When he’s comfortable, he’s very outgoing and outspoken. When he officially signed the next day I texted him congrats. I told him, ‘I can’t wait to get things started. I can’t wait to be your teammate again.’ He said the same thing back.”
So having played behind him in the field, what is Winn’s scouting report on Hence?
“You better hit the fastball because you’re not going to hit the offspeed,” Winn said. “He’s not the heaviest dude in the world but he uses his entire body and knows how to pitch. He locates, and he’s got great offspeed stuff. I’ve never seen him get roughed up. I’ve seen him pitch against a few great teams and absolutely dominate.
“He’s definitely a power pitcher, but he’s a true pitcher and not just somebody who goes out there and throws. He’s really cool to watch.”
And what does Hence have to say about Winn?
“He’s got all the tools,” Hence said. “He can hit, run, throw, field. He can do everything. He’s one of the best two-way guys I’ve seen. Usually if a guy can hit that’s it, but he can do everything.”
While Hence’s future definitely is on the mound, where “his ceiling is through the roof,” according to Kinney, the Cardinals are going to let Winn begin his professional career playing both shortstop and pitching, which Winn has done since he was 8 years old, and see what happens.
“I might be the only guy in the country who says Masyn Winn is going to pitch in the big leagues (instead of getting there as a shortstop),” Brewster said. “He’s one of the best shortstops we’ve ever seen. We’ve seen him hit really good velocity for home runs and doubles. I have no doubt he can be a shortstop.
“But he throws 98 and he holds his velocity really well and he’s got one of the best changeups in the country and throws a 90-mph slider. To me with that combination it’s unbelievable that people don’t think he’s going to pitch. It’s a testament to how good a shortstop he is, but he’s got some of the best stuff in the country.
“He’s just a kid you want in your program. It doesn’t matter where he plays.”
Some time soon, whether it is later this summer or fall, or perhaps next spring, the next battle in the friendly competition between Winn and Hence will take place. There will come a day when Winn will step into the cage and bat against Hence, something he has never done.
“It might take me a few at-bats to catch up to it, but I joked with him the other day that I was going to take him 450 (feet),” Winn said.
To which Hence no doubt replied, “We’ll see.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photos courtesy of Masyn Winn and Alisha Brewster