Jesse Winker came into the season as the Reds best hitting prospect, and in spite of an up and down season, he remains the Reds best chance for an All Star caliber bat in the minor leagues. Winker dominated high A as a 20 year old in 2014, batting .317/.426/.580 in 249 plate appearances. He was promoted to AA and played only 21 games before he tore a tendon in his right wrist and missed the rest of the season.

To make up for missed at bats, the Reds sent Winker to the competitive Arizona Fall League. In the AFL, Winker led the entire league with an OPS of .999. The AFL typically has a number of excellent prospects, and Winker outperformed them all. His strong performance pushed him up many prospect lists and cemented his position as the best hitting prospect the Reds have had since Joey Votto and Jay Bruce came through the system.

His defense has never wowed scouts, but the bat has been a loud tool for three years as a professional. He doesn’t have elite power, but Kiley McDaniel (lead prospect analyst at Fangraphs) has stated that he might hit 20 homeruns a year at peak development. McDaniel also states that Winker doesn’t have a ton of risk, likely because of his advanced plate approach.

Many fans clamored for Winker to get a shot at the everyday left field position in Spring Training. But with only 21 games above single A, the Reds sent Winker back to AA for some more seasoning.

Winker struggled out of the gate in 2015, hitting for a low average in April and May and more alarming, slugging .259 in May. He continued to show elite plate discipline, which kept his on base numbers at a strong level. But the power that could take Winker from an above-average bat to an All Star bat was nowhere to be found.

Then June rolled around and Winker’s bat caught fire. Winker has hit .325/.415/.475 this month with 13 BB and 16 K. Coming into June, Winker had only eight extra base hits all season. He has seven this month. His current season slash line now stands at .262/.366/.371, and he has an impressive 13.5% BB rate. Even with the low slugging percentage, Winker has produced 13% better than the league average player in AA.

Winker’s early season struggles forced him to make adjustments, a skills teams want to see in their prospects before they reach the major leagues. One scout even suggested that Winker’s makeup would allow him to struggled at an advanced level and become a better player for it. He is only 21, about three years younger than the average player in his league and already holding his own against older and often more polished competition.

Winker’s turnaround isn’t unexpected. He has the bat speed to compete, and his knowledge of the strike zone keeps him from getting himself out frequently.

Another encouraging sign is Winker’s defense. While he will never play elite, corner outfield defense, he has six assists this year and has yet to make an error. Some reports before the season suggested that he might have gained a tad bit of speed since he was drafted, which may contribute to better range. Regardless of the reason, Winker may end up being an average defender. If his bat plays to potential, he would be an excellent player.

The Reds have plenty of questions to answer before the end of the season. Going into next season, they still must address the left field issue. They likely won’t give Marlon Byrd enough plate appearances to trigger the vesting option in his contract. Devin Mesoraco will return to catching most days unless he proves he can’t catch anymore. Unless the Reds want to sign another stop gap, they may give the job to an internal candidate.

Winker remains the Reds best chance to stabilize the black hole of left field for an extended period of time.  He does have competitors, and the Reds may eventually need to find space for Yorman Rodriguez and Kyle Waldrop as well, but they should not count on all three panning out.  Rodriguez is the most toolsy of the three, but Winker has such an advanced approach that he is the least risky of the three.

The Reds strong run from 2010-2013 was built largely on the farm system. Even players they brought in from other organizations (Latos, Choo, etc.) were bought with players the Reds developed. It’s time for the next wave of position prospects to begin making a difference. Eugenio Suarez and Tucker Barnhart are already contributing. The Reds talented group of outfielders are likely next.

Winker will be an interesting player to watch the rest of the season. If he can continue his resurgence and rediscover some of his power from 2014, Winker may put himself into the Reds equation for 2014. If not, he may not make his debut until 2017. At 21, Winker has plenty of time to develop into the player fans and scouts think he can be. If the Reds want to build another contender, they need their best prospects to produce. In spite of a slow start, Winker seems on schedule.

39 Responses

  1. WVRedlegs

    Doug Gray always says that the way the Pensacola Stadium is set up, that it penalizes LH hitters in the power department. Maybe instead of HR’s, we should look at Winker’s 2B’s numbers. Only 10 in 65 games is not very good. And an ISO of .110 is pitiful for a corner OF.
    Maybe it is time to start grooming Winker as a leadoff hitter, since the Reds have very little in that department.

    • Nick Carrington

      8 extra base hits in June after only 8 combined between April and May. Hopefully, he is trending upward.

      • WVRedlegs

        I am hopeful too. But 6 of his 8 XBH in June were on the road. And 5 of the 8 occurred between 06/03 and 06/06. Only 3 XBH after June 6. An upward trend that is barely upward.
        If Votto is going to bat second, might as well put Winker in the leadoff spot. As much as the Reds have struggled in the leadoff spot, minus Choo, over the last several years, they need to do something.

      • Nick Carrington

        Yeah, you’re right. Not much of an upward trend. Certainly better than previous months but not necessarily good.

  2. sultanofswaff

    With a continued run of success, my preference would be to let Jesse play out the string in Cincinnati after Byrd gets traded……..assuming the Reds do the right thing by trading him.
    As with all our young prospects (like Stephenson and YRod), I want them to experience their major league growing pains this season when there’s nothing to play for rather than next season, when youthful mistakes would hurt our chances at a playoff spot. Additionally, knowledge of what these kids can and cannot do on the big stage will help management make more informed decisions about areas of need.

    • Tom Gray

      Way too early for that. He can’t AA pitching consistently. How could he hit MLB pitching at all?

      All due respect, not the best idea in the world. Winker may be up NEXT year in mid season but 2015.

      • jdx19

        He’s hitting AA pitching at 13% better than league average in a stadium that hampers lefties after hurting his wrist last year while being somewhat young.

        While I agree it’s too early for “that” I bet he’d maintain a higher OBP than several Reds regulars due to his plate discipline alone.

      • Ron Fulton

        Don’t know what your talking about. Best pure hitter the Reds have. Reds are going no where this year, now is the time to take a look see. Byrd is not in the Reds future so why even play him. Jocketty would have kept Trout and Harper down for another year or two. Bring him up.

      • redmountain

        Why not Rodriguez? Over the last month he has been hitting very well. He is a level higher and could opt for FA after this season. Better to give him a shot and let Winker continue to develop. In addition, Selsky was having a big season at AAA before he was injured, so he is a possibility next year.

  3. Redsfan48

    I really like what I’ve seen from Suárez offensively in the short time he’s been here. Same wih Barnhart. They both haven’t even reached their potential yet so hopefully we see a lot of contribution from them in the years to come. Barnhart clearly won’t start over Mes but he’s going to be a very good backup

    • reaganspad

      That is what I really like about Mesoraco playing some LF or RF, in that Tucker gets to play. I am excited to see Mesoraco get 500 ABs, that just does not happen for 10 years running in the bigs for a catcher. Mauer and Posey, those guys bats are too important.

      If Billy isn’t ready to play next year, Yorman or Bruce would be in CF with Winker in LF. Lots of pieces to put into play but no way they can go into 2016 with Mesoraco as a full time catcher and Billy in CF with a sub 300 obp.

      I would be for Winker in the bigs after Byrd is traded. He hits 6 HRs in August in GABP and he will never leave the lineup.

      Billy should be in Louisville working on scraping switch hitting during that month, come back up in Sept.

      And Mesoraco should have 2 gloves with him for the rest of his career

      • ohiojimw

        “And Mesoraco should have 2 gloves with him for the rest of his career”

        *******************************************

        I’d say Meso should have three gloves (assuming he can catch). Votto is going to need an increasing number of games off; and, that opens the opportunity to use Meso much like the Giants use Posey.

      • reaganspad

        Stupid idea for Craig Biggio, Dale Murphy to play center field yet they did fine.

        Mesoraco is a good athlete. Use a tippy cup when you are drinking your coke

      • Tom Gray

        Mesoraco in RF?

        Made me spit my Diet Coke through my nostrils. Hilarious idea.

      • brmreturns

        yet you refuse to provide any ideas other than bashing what others propose without any semblance of data to back up your claims (comments, really….. and generally snarky at that). I’m all for debating a difference of opinions, but I debate without facts is not worth while….

      • reaganspad

        sorry the above was a response to Tom not to OhioJim

      • musicclown

        Hamilton is going nowhere, not with 40 steals by mid-season. Why does he need to go back to the minors to scrap switch hitting. He can just decide to scrap it and that’s it. One last thing is his defense in CF. Bruce in CF? Really?

      • reaganspad

        It is the second half of a non playoff year, 16 games out of 1st place. 2nd half is going to be a experiment for a lot of call ups. Yorman may be close enough to play CF. I like Billy, but with a sub 300 obp, he needs work

        Billy was the one who said that he would wait till next year to stop switch hitting so apparently he sees a need to do the adjustment in the off season. do it now (although he is bunting well from the left this series)

      • jdx19

        Yorman isn’t all that good. Certainly not as good as Billy. Defense + base running count, also.

        I think Yorman would be a replacement level player right now, with Billy being well above that. Let him keep learning in the bigs. There’s no harm in it since this team is going no where.

      • DHud

        Rodriguez is still only 22 yrs old and improving. I may agree that he’s replacement level currently, but I think writing him off as only that is selling him short

      • jdx19

        DHUD, I was not meaning to write him off, just that bringing him up to replace Hamilton is not a good idea. Yorman is another of the Lutz/Dominguez archetype at the moment (super low walks, super high strikeouts) who would be abysmal (worse than Hamilton, likely) against major league pitching.

        I think he can actually benefit from AAA, while Hamilton is unlikely to do so. Since Billy provides real value to the team in the field and on the bases, sending him to AAA is a non-starter in my eyes.

  4. jdx19

    I can’t see how Harold Reynolds has a job on TV… the guy is so clueless.

  5. redmountain

    If you look at what Hamilton has done after the last fifteen, or thirty games he is trending upward and is projected to be a guy who gets on base at over 300. That is an improvement. At 24 he is as old as a lot of rookies. With him trending upward, why does he need to go to AAA to learn to hit better?

  6. Berdj J. Rassam

    Jesse is still young and has plenty to learn about the game, uber-talented or not.

  7. GeauxReds

    I went to a game this year to watch him play. He is a below average fielder even in left…. If that tells you anything.

      • jdx19

        And with seemingly 1 whole game for the sample!

      • GeauxReds

        His arm strength wasn’t impressive. Then he failed to hit his cutoff man not once but twice. This was not an arm strength issue, but a mental issue. It was he wrong call in both situations. In neither instance was the game on the line. Finally, he was thrown out trying to score from second base with two outs on a scorcher to center. That tells me he wont be covering too much ground in the outfield.

        That being said, he hit two shots to the warning track in left. The flags were slowing straight in at 15 to 20 ohm off the gulf that night. Maybe on a calmer night one or two of those make it over the wall.

      • Nick Carrington

        The scouts have him as average in the future at best and quite possibly below average, so let’s hope he improves.

    • jdx19

      Up to a 117 wRC+! I’m hoping if he continues this way for another 2-3 weeks he’ll get sent to AAA. His approach should play there. But likely the team will want to wait until next year for AAA.

      • Nick Carrington

        If he has another July like June, I could see him getting 50-60 PA in AAA. You’re exactly right: the approach will keep him from being totally lost and allow him time to make adjustments. Even while hitting poorly for half this season, he has a .371 OBP.

      • jdx19

        It’s hard to piece together meaningful samples because of the different levels and the injury, but in full-ish season sizes, his BB% and K% are very similar to Votto’s.

  8. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I can’t help seeing Winker and Waldrop manning our corner OF positions eventually, given regular progressions.

  9. Nick Carrington

    Winker #41 on Baseball Prospectus top 50 mid season list. They continue to call him a plus hitter with average power.

  10. Shchi Cossack

    For the 1st month of the season, Winker slashed .230/.328/.340 and I saw many posters crying gloom and doom. I have no idea why the 1st month was so poor, nor do I care to break it down, but since then, Winker has slashed .296/.400/.421. Over the last month, Winker has slashed .337/.423/.516. His ISO improved from 110 to 179 from the 1st month to the last month. I think Winker will be just fine and the sooner he advances to AAA, the better the Reds future will look.