The 2015 season could probably have gotten off to a worse start for Reds top position prospect Jesse Winker, but it certainly could have gone better. Over the first two months of the season, the outfielder hit .229/.343/.314 in 181 plate appearances for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. He walked 24 times in that span and only had 27 strikeouts, but his power was way down and the ball simply wasn’t finding the outfield grass often.

On May 15th I looked back at his struggles in Pensacola for subscribers at my site (and if you aren’t subscribing over there, think about it – it helps support all that I do) and found that his groundball rate was through the roof. At that point in the season, his groundball rate was sitting at 64%, which represented a 45% increase in his rate of grounders from the year before.

Groundballs don’t go for extra-base hits all that often, so that certainly explained where the power had gone for the 21-year-old. His line drive rate was in line with past seasons and he was hitting fewer infield flies, though that was never really an issue. He simply had been trading fly balls for grounders in the early part of the year.

Things have changed ever since the calendar flipped to June. His groundball rate has been 40% since that point in time, which is right in line with where he has been for the rest of his career and the results have been exactly what everyone seemed to expect from him coming into the year. In the 284 plate appearances Winker has had since June began, he has hit .299/.391/.496 with 13 doubles, a triple and 11 home runs. And he’s done that while playing in a home ballpark that crushes power to right and right-center.

I had a chance to talk to him about his early struggles while I was in Pensacola earlier this month.

I’ve learned a lot. It was an interesting start to my year, but you know I’ve had so many learning experiences and I’ve taken so much from this one year that honestly I feel like it’s been my best year as a player.

I also asked him about the adjustment, if there was any between what was happening with the things in April and May and since, given the big difference in the rate of groundballs that he had early on.

It kind of just happened (the change in batted ball profile when June began). I’d be hitting 3-4 groundouts to second or short every game and I was like ‘what the heck is going on?’, but baseball is a game of a half inch, and that’s all it really was. I wasn’t really getting frustrated with it. I knew it would turn around. Some of it just had to do with pitch selection, as simple as going up and picking a different pitch and getting something to drive. And that’s what I did. It’s a game of ups-and-downs and you try to stay even keel. I knew it would change, it was just a matter of time. Starting off a little slow and coming out of it, as a player it shows you can do that. Next time you’re in a slump you are like ‘alright, I’ve been through three of these, I’m fine’. It’s one of those things I learned from and I learned how to get out of a slow start and how to get out of it, so it was good for me.

It was good for him. While we (at least I know that I do) question some of the things that announcers will say on the air, we often hear the former players that are now announcing often talk about how it’s good for a player to struggle at some point in their career before they reach the Major Leagues and to learn how to work through it. Prior to the early part of this season, Jesse Winker hadn’t really had any prolonged periods of struggle in his career.

Now he has and he’s exploded through the wall like the Kool-Aid man and hasn’t looked back. In August he’s hitting .348/.430/.652 with six home runs in just 19 games. If you only look at his season line, you can see a good, but unspectacular stat line, but when you look at how he’s performed for the last three months you can see that stat line of a guy who looks every bit of the organizations top position prospect and maybe a guy who could be knocking on the door of a big league job very soon. When you watch him hit, you get the same feeling.

Here’s some video of Winker at the plate that I shot while down in Pensacola, including a nice opposite field home run that started a streak of five home runs in five games.

22 Responses

  1. Greg Dafler

    Any reason he hasn’t been promoted to AAA given his surge, the Byrd trade and Hamilton DL stint? There should have been a couple of openings in AAA after the ML transactions.

    • WVRedlegs

      They moved Adam Duvall to LF in Louisville and have YorRod and Waldrop in the OF. But with Waldrop’s big struggles at AAA, it would seem like a natural to flip-flop Waldrop back to AA and promote Winker to AAA.

    • Todd Greeson

      Most of the time the good MILB’ers tend to skip AAA Yorman has been a career AAA yet somehow makes our org prospect list every year. BHam didn’t spend time in Louisville (or not much). That’s for rehab and people like Yorman (not that it has to be that way as Stephenson and Waldrop are future ML’s Yorman is on the close End of 30 and has no options I think (or 1). Just my thoughts.

      • lwblogger2

        Not sure what you mean about Yorman “on the close End of 30”. Are you talking about his age? He’s been around a long time but he signed very young. He just turned 23 this month.

  2. cfd3000

    Three questions:
    How is Winker’s glove in the outfield?
    What does he need to learn at AAA that he couldn’t or shouldn’t try to learn on the big team?
    Who is a better hitter right now – Winker or Suarez?
    And thanks as always Doug for the solid updates.

  3. Mark

    Can he teach that groundball bad habit to Hamilton?

  4. WVRedlegs

    It looked like each hit he had in your video went to the opposite field. Nice, easy swing. I would love to see him vs. ML pitchers in September, but I understand the scenario. With him being only 21, there is time for patience. But only 13 games remaining in Pensacola’s season. It would be nice to see him playing in September though in Cincinnati.

    • reaganspad

      totally agree WVRED, We can manage his clock for arb next year

    • doctor

      Winker turned 22 on Aug-17. next year will be his age-23 year, hopefully he has a excellent first half AAA season and gets called up to be reds LF for next several years.

      • Doug Gray

        Next year will be his age 22 year. Baseball calculates ages by how old you are on June 30th.

      • doctor

        ok, poor choice of words but my point was he turns 23 during the season in 2016, so not as young as some think.

  5. User1022

    This is pretty great news. If he can translate most of those stats to the big league team, it’s pretty exciting to think about. He has swiped 8 bags this year in 112 games, too, so that’s a nice little bonus. If he could be more aggressive on the basepaths, we might be looking at a 20/20 guy.

    Leadoff hitter of the future?

    • doctor

      He is not rated that well as a speed guy(Run:40 on the scouts scale per MLB site), the 8 SB he has this year are a career high. He is more likely a 20/40 guy, as in 20+HR and 40+doubles. He might be the #2 hitter in reds lineup in 2016/2017.

      • CI3J

        I wouldn’t mind him as a leadoff guy. The main thing is he gets on base. Any speed or power he could bring to bear would just be icing on that cake.

    • Doug Gray

      Wasting his power at the leadoff spot would be pretty dumb. Bat him 2nd-5th, let the power play.

      • CI3J

        I guess it depends a lot of the makeup of the team when he finally arrives. If he gets here and Votto, Frazier, Bruce, and Meso are all on the team and hitting like they are capable of, leadoff is the only real option to get winker the most ABs. I’m envisioning a lineup like this:

        LF Winker
        1B Votto
        3B/C Frazier/Mez
        RF Bruce
        3B/C Frazier/Mez
        2B
        SS
        P
        CF BHam

        What would you do, Doug?

  6. AndyW10

    I would like to see him in the majors in 2016. Assuming they can get rid of Phillips and his injuries.

    1B: Votto
    LF: Winker
    3B: Frazier
    RF: Bruce
    C: Mesoraco
    SS: Cozart
    2B: Suarez
    Pitcher
    CF: Billy Hamilton

    • CI3J

      Just curious, why would you put Votto above Winker? That would seem like a bigger waste of power than batting Winker leadoff (although we don’t yet know Winker’s power ceiling).

      • AndyW10

        I just feel that it would be better for Jesse’s development to bat him behind a solid hitter, though I can see the argument for batting him ahead of Votto. It would give him a lot more of the better pitches to swing at knowing Votto’s behind him.

    • ncmountie1

      No offense but Billy Hamilton is either a leadoff hitter or he’s not IMO. This batting him 9th and pitcher is BS IMO. I’d keep Votto at 2 & Winker 3 and hope SOMEWHERE we can get a true 4 or Mez can be 4. Bruce, Frazier…remaining open depending on BP & Cozart. For me I’d like to see Cozart & Suarez per above.

    • Michael Smith

      Andy why would you put Suarez behind Cozart?

      • AndyW10

        I think, at least for 2016, put Cozart ahead of Suarez just because of the fact that he’s a veteran.