Patrick Winkel never plotted out to be a catcher. It just sort of happened one day, when he was a 9-year-old playing Little League ball. \u201cThe team he was on didn\u2019t have a catcher,\u201d Winkel\u2019s father, Jim, recalled. \u201cHe tried it and he enjoyed it. Frankly, it\u2019s a good position for him, given the strengths of his game\u2014 good arm, soft hands, and the fact that he\u2019s a left-handed bat.\u201d Yes, catching has worked out pretty well for Patrick Winkel. So well that the Amity High senior could very well have two intriguing choices in a couple of months: head to the powerful UConn program and reunite as teammates with his older brother, Chris, or sign with a major-league team after being selected high in the 2018 draft. \u201cIt\u2019s sort of a win-win,\u201d said Winkel\u2019s mother, Marcy. \u201cIt\u2019s very exciting. There aren\u2019t a lot of kids that have that opportunity. We\u2019re just excited for him. Whatever comes of it, he\u2019s very lucky.\u201d For Winkel\u2019s part, he\u2019s handling the situation as well as possible for a kid who\u2019s already been contacted by about half the teams in Major League Baseball and has scouts lined up to watch him play at practices and games. \u201cIt\u2019s cool and stuff,\u201d Winkel said, \u201cbut at the end of the day, you\u2019re there to play and have fun. Whether you play well or not, it\u2019s about how the team does at the end. If you have a bad game, it doesn\u2019t matter as long as your team wins.\u201d Winkel hasn\u2019t had a whole lot of bad days on the baseball field over his first three seasons at Amity. As a junior last year, Winkel hit .512 with five homers, 38 RBIs, 27 runs scored, 11 doubles, four triples and 43 hits (one shy of the school\u2019s single-season record). He posted a .598 on-base percentage and slugged at a .917 clip. And that\u2019s just what he did at the plate. Behind the plate, Winkel was even better, throwing out all but two would-be base-stealers. \u201cI think, honestly, he\u2019s better defensively,\u201d said longtime Amity coach Sal Coppola. \u201cHe\u2019s got a gorgeous swing, but when you watch him throw the ball down to second base, it\u2019s like what you\u2019d see on TV. It\u2019s about three feet off the ground, on a line to second. How he receives the ball, blocks balls, frames pitches \u2014 he\u2019s just outstanding. He\u2019s all the things you look for in a catcher.\u201d But while Winkel is proud of his accomplishments so far, he\u2019s hardly resting on his laurels. He wants to get better as a player and a leader, now that he\u2019s a tri-captain along with pitcher Ben Lodewick and first baseman Jack Nolan. \u201cMy goal is to get the team going,\u201d he said. \u201cAlong with putting up numbers, it\u2019s motivating the team to be as good as it can be.\u201d That could be even more crucial this season for an Amity team that, for the first time in recent memory, enters the season as underdogs. Well, sort of. The Spartans lost seven of their nine starters from last year\u2019s team that lost to Staples in the Class LL finals, snapping a streak of four straight state titles. But with Winkel leading the way, they should be right back in the state title mix. Still, Winkel knows his leadership is crucial, particularly with a pitching staff that, beyond Lodewick and senior Mike Ficaro, might be stacked with relatively inexperienced underclassmen. \u201cJust managing the pitching staff, being able to calm them down when things start to derail a little bit,\u201d Winkel said of one of his chief goals this season. \u201cThe mental side, you have to have the ability to stick to what you\u2019re good at.\u201d He added that pitch-framing is \u201ccrucial, especially in high school baseball, where any pitch you can get even a little off the plate helps the pitcher and helps you. That\u2019s the goal. Steal a strike here and there, get a big out, that can be the difference in a game.\u201d It\u2019s this type of ability that had Winkel heavily on the showcase circuit this past summer. He played in the Area Code Games in Long Beach, California (as he had the prior summer, as well), along with the Perfect Game National Super 25 National Tournament in Florida and the Tournament of Stars in North Carolina. In the fall, he went down to Jupiter, Florida to play with Baseball U Connecticut, a travel team out of Fairfield comprised of top players from around the Northeast. Through it all, he got to meet and know several major league scouts, some of whom have already popped up this spring to watch him play. That\u2019s helped him deal with the scrutiny he\u2019s receiving. \u201cI think he\u2019s pretty calm about it,\u201d said Coppola. \u201cIt\u2019s nice knowing you have a scholarship to play baseball at a great school. At a minimum, he\u2019s going to UConn to play baseball. If something extraordinary happens, he\u2019ll consider the draft.\u201d Winkel has been projected as high as a fifth-round pick in this year\u2019s June draft. Of course, that could change, depending on how well he plays this spring and how much teams are willing to offer to woo him away from his baseball scholarship. But if there\u2019s a dollar amount that could make Winkel consider going pro \u2014 and let teams know they wouldn\u2019t be wasting a draft pick on him \u2014 he and his family aren\u2019t letting on. \u201cIn all honesty, we\u2019re kind of putting it on the back burner,\u201d said Jim Winkel. \u201cWe know there\u2019s a lot of time between now and the draft (June 4-6). We want him to enjoy being a senior. As the draft comes up, we\u2019ll have a better idea.\u201d \u201cI\u2019m just trying to focus on what\u2019s in front of me now and let whatever happens, happen,\u201d Patrick Winkel added. \u201cIt\u2019s good to keep your options open, but high school season is the main focus right now.\u201d And that means leading an \u201cunderdog\u201d team back to the state finals for a sixth straight season.