In just a couple weeks, we will reach the last full month of the regular season. Unfortunately, the Reds won’t be chasing a playoff spot this season, but they will have some interesting players on the field in September. We will likely see a revolving door of young and/or rookie pitcher vying for the upper hand in the 2016 starting rotation sweepstakes. But from a positional player standpoint, the Reds only real position prospects with much upside at all in AAA are Kyle Waldrop and Yorman Rodriguez. Rodriguez is hurt and Waldrop has struggled mightily since his promotion to AAA.

Which brings us to an interesting question facing the Reds: should they call up top position prospect Jesse Winker in September to get plate appearances against Major League pitching? Walt Jocketty stated yesterday that they haven’t even talked about the possibility yet, which is troubling if true. Shouldn’t the Reds be discussing this type of decision by now?

While Winker hasn’t even had a plate appearance in AAA, he would get valuable instruction from Major League coaches, insight from successful Major League hitters (get on it, Joey), and a better understanding of what it takes to succeed at the highest level.

Winker recently made headlines because he homered in five straight games. His 13 homeruns lead the Reds minor league system even though he plays his home games in a park that minimizes left-handed power. Of Winker’s 13 homeruns, only four of them have come at home.

Since the 2nd half of the AA season began, Winker has hit .310/.403/.542. His overall numbers are close to and trending toward his career minor league numbers, which helped make him a premier hitting prospect in the game. He looks ready to move on to another challenge. As to whether that next challenge is September baseball in the Major Leagues is debatable. The Reds have several factors to consider.

AA Playoffs

The Reds AA affiliate, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, is currently tied for a playoff spot. By adding Cody Reed and Alex Blandino to the roster in recent weeks, the Blue Wahoos have upgraded their talent for the stretch run. If they make the playoffs, they may want to keep Winker on the team to compete for a championship. AA championships don’t mean much, but maybe the Reds want Winker to experience playoff caliber baseball in the minors. Obviously, if the Blue Wahoos fail to qualify for the playoffs, the Reds will not need to consider this factor. Right now, they are playing extremely well.

Even if the Blue Wahoos do make the playoffs, the Reds may be more concerned about seeing how Winker currently measures up against Major League pitchers. They will likely go into the offseason with leftfield as a question mark and would get a better understanding of how far away Winker is by seeing him live in the big leagues.

Psychological/Mental Concerns

We hear frequently of players being rushed to the major leagues before they are ready. Winker likely wouldn’t start next season in leftfield, but the Reds might rightfully be concerned that struggles during a September call up would halt the momentum Winker has gained with his impressive second half.  The Reds could not be blamed for letting Winker continue to dominate AA pitching and leaving the 2015 season on a positive note.

On the other hand, Winker’s skill set has traditionally translated well to the major leagues. He walks a lot and hits to all parts of the field.  Players with excellent plate discipline are at a lower risk for failure and typically adjust more quickly to better competition.  Even as Winker struggled early in AA, his ability to take walks kept his OBP at reasonable levels until the rest of his game caught up.

In his all questions answered post yesterday, Reds minor league guru Doug Gray wrote that he thinks “Winker could hit in the big leagues right now.” If this statement is true, Winker would benefit from plate appearances at the highest level because he could begin making the necessary adjustments.

And it’s not like we haven’t seen him make adjustments. His poor first half in AA was the first time he’d really struggled in the minor leagues, and he has rebounded nicely. He didn’t appear to doubt his ability to hit, and it’s doubtful that struggling in a September call up would have any long term effects. In anything, it might make Winker more aware of how he needs to improve to stay in the big leagues for good next season. If Winker needs to go through some growing pains, the Reds would benefit from Winker going through part of that adjustment period now during lost season.

Big League Coaching/Mentoring

Besides the experience of testing his skills against the best pitchers on earth, the best argument to bringing Winker to Cincinnati is the ability to learn from coaches and other major leaguers. There isn’t a substitute for watching how Joey Votto approaches his craft. Winker would undoubtedly have access to more analysis tools of his swing and approach, and the Reds coaches could help him further define what he needs to focus on in the offseason.

Winker would also get the experience of a big league clubhouse. Every new job requires an employee to adjust to the culture of that environment. I doubt that the Blue Wahoos have a similar environment to the Cincinnati Reds. A month in Cincinnati would give Winker understand what life is like in the big leagues. The less he has to think about the lifestyle surrounding the game, the more he can focus on punishing the baseball.

The Reds might look at this taste of the big leagues as the best way to help Winker transition to the highest level. He wouldn’t have any pressure on him because of the Reds position in the standings. With Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, and Todd Frazier on the roster, no one is proclaiming Winker as the face of the franchise. He could begin his adjustment with the Reds professional staff to help him and without any real pressure to speak of.

Service Time

While the Reds should consider all of the previous variables, the most important item to consider is service time. As the 2015 season began, the Chicago Cubs took a lot of heat for sending super prospect Kris Bryant to the minor leagues. Between AA and AAA in 2014, Bryant had hit 43 homeruns and was dubbed the minor league player of the year by Baseball America. He proceeded to hammer major league pitching in Spring Training of 2015. After all that, the Cubs sent Kris Bryant to AAA for the first twelve days of the season until he made his major league debut on April 17th.

The Cubs claimed that Bryant still needed to work on his defense before playing in the major leagues every day. And maybe he did. But nobody on earth thought that was the reason the Cubs sent Bryant to the minor leagues. They sent him to AAA because of service time.

Among other things, Major League service time determines when a player reaches free agency. To reach free agency a player must accrue six full years of service time. How is service time collected?

Well, first of all, a full year of service time equals 172 days on the active roster. Players gain service time even if they are on the disabled list or rehabbing. Major league seasons are typically around 183 days so a player can spend around ten or eleven days in the minor leagues and still collect enough service time to count toward a full year. If they spend any more time in the minors, they fall short of a complete year of service time.

Service time is typically represented by the number of years and days the player has collected. When you see a player has collected 4.115 in service time, it means he has four years and 115 days of service time on his record.

So, teams will often wait until there are 171 days left in the season to call up top prospects. At the end of their sixth year, a player will have collected 5.171 years of service time and not 6.0. This means that the team will functionally get an additional year out of the player, and the player will not become a free agent until the end of the following season when they have over six years of service time (6.171).

September callus accrue service time as the active roster expands from 25 to 40 players.  Winker would need to be added to the 40 man roster, but a trade of Marlon Byrd or the seemingly inevitable cutting of Brennan Boesch would take care of that. Winker would gain 30+ days of service time if he came up September 1st, and the Reds would put themselves in position to lose a year of control of Winker’s services.

But that only matters if Winker was ready to start the season with the Reds next season. Regardless of what he does the rest of this season or in Spring Training of 2016, he will likely begin the year in AAA. If the Reds wait to call up Winker until around June 1st or later, they will not risk losing that extra year of control.

To properly deal with the service time issue, the Reds need to determine how close Winker is to playing every day in the Major Leagues.  If they bring him up in September, they will need to wait the appropriate amount of days next season before calling him up in order to gain that extra season. And that could be an issue. If Winker rakes in AAA in April next season and the Reds leftfield situation looks bleak, they may need to delay his promotion until they can guarantee an extra year of his services.

Conclusion

The Reds can make a strong case for both calling Winker up to the Major Leagues or giving him an extra month off after the minor league season ends. He likely needs some time in AAA before becoming an everyday outfielder for the Reds. Whether that is early in 2016 or later is left to be determined. Whatever the Reds do, they need to protect his service time. While they have some interesting bats in the minors, Winker is on another level and likely someone they want to have in their lineup for years to come.

If Winker’s high OBP, solid power ways translate well to the majors, The Reds will have a potential All Star down the line. If it happens sometimes next year, the Reds make an everyday spot for Eugenio Suarez, and Devin Mesoraco returns to full health, the Reds offense could be really fun to watch in 2016. They just need to decide whether a taste of the big leagues now is in Winker’s best interest long term.

I’ve struggled to decide what I think is best. I would love to see him in Cincinnati, but there are legitimate questions about whether they should or not. I think Winker would really benefit from a taste of the show and from being around a hitter like Votto. And yet, I also see the value in Winker leaving this season with his confidence high, something that may or may not happen if the Reds call him to the big leagues but will likely happen if his season ends with the conclusion of the AA schedule.

What would you do, Nation?