"We were told he was going to be basically unsignable," said Stan Meek, Miami's vice president of scouting. "He was going to go to Florida State."
Winston capped his remarkable redshirt-freshman season by hoisting the BCS National Championship trophy after FSU edged Auburn University, 34-31, on Monday night at the Rose Bowl.
With football season complete, Winston plans to turn his attention to baseball at FSU, where he plays outfield and pitches.
The Marlins did their homework on Winston in 2012, when he was coming out of Hueytown (Ala.) High School. Meek, who spearheads Miami's Draft, didn't watch Winston play baseball, but several scouts within the organization did, and they were intrigued with him as both a pitcher and an outfielder.
"Our guys liked him athletically," Meek said. "Good arm off the mound. He had power. He could run. You love to get those guys if you can. We just didn't feel like under the system we were in, we were going to be able to sign him. We didn't spend a lot of time on him. He made it known real quickly that he was going to go to Florida State."
Had Winston opted for baseball, the Marlins projected him as an outfielder.
"For us, I think, athletically we'd have liked him as a position player," Meek said. "Everything fit. It was just a matter of him going to play football."
Winston reportedly is considering playing two sports professionally. If possible, he would like to follow the steps of Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders and achieve both MLB and NFL fame. The reality is that Jackson and Sanders are on a very short list of those who actually made it in both sports.
The Marlins, who rely heavily on drafting and developing, are extremely careful when it comes to two-sport stars. Money and commitment are factors.
"A lot of those guys are just asking for astronomical amounts of money," Meek said. "Honestly, you better really feel like you want to play our game.
"A lot of guys will say, 'I'm not sure. I really like to play football.' When they start saying that, we know that's the way they're thinking, and it's hard to sign them."
Meek reminds that baseball is a game with lots of failure. A quarterback like Winston has achieved so much success, how would he react if he is batting .200 in the Minor Leagues? All that is taken into consideration when selecting a two-sport star.
"Those guys who have been really successful on the football field, it's hard to go out and play in front of 500 people instead of 80,000, and fail about eight out of 10 times at the plate," Meek said.
This doesn't mean the Marlins will shy away from football players. They just want to find out how serious they are about baseball.
Giancarlo Stanton was a baseball, football and basketball star coming out of high school in 2007, and the University of Southern California had a football scholarship on the table for him. He was recruited by then-coach Pete Carroll.
At the time, the Marlins heavily scouted Stanton, attending his games and practices. Meek was on hand in late March, about three months before the Draft.
"We just needed to find out what he's thinking," Meek said. "I went into the dugout and introduced myself. I asked him, 'What do you want to do?' He had that Stanton look, that stare. He said, 'I want to play baseball. This is what I want to do.'"
Looking for reinforcement, Meek kept pressing.
"I said, 'Well, you know, it's a failure game. You have to be committed,'" Meek said. "He said, 'I want to play baseball. That's what I want to do.'
"He was not timid. What was really impressive was his look. We had no doubt he meant what he said. It said a lot to me."
Another indicator the Marlins used was the fact that college football's national signing day passed and Stanton had still not committed to USC. Stanton became the Marlins' second-round pick in '07, and he has emerged as one of the most feared power hitters in the game.
The Marlins were less fortunate in 2003, when they selected outfielder Jai Miller in the fourth round. A "Mr. Football" in the state of Alabama, Miller opted for baseball, but his career never really took off.
Miller had one at-bat with the Marlins, in 2009. He also spent time with the A's and Royals before giving up baseball. Miller made news last January, when at the age of 28, he enrolled at the University of Alabama to play football.
In 2007, the Marlins showed heavy interest in another baseball/football player, outfielder Taiwan Easterling, but they were never able to sign him, as he decided to play football at Florida State.
The Marlins persisted and drafted Easterling again, in the 31st round in 2010, but again, he didn't sign. Easterling's football career was sidetracked by injury, and he is now in the Cubs' system.
"The key is them saying they're committed," Meek said. "Those guys have had football success. To walk that baseball path of failure, which virtually all of them are going to have [to do] for a while, it's tough.
"Those guys, they're difference-makers. If it works, they can be real difference-makers, impact guys."