If you haven’t heard, the Reds are rebuilding and have acquired and drafted an impressive group of young, talented players. That’s important because teams that rebuild typically have insufficient talent throughout the system, which is why they were bad in the first place.

The Reds mostly likely hit rock bottom in 2015 and have begun their ascent to more respectable levels. The heights to which they will rise depend on how well they develop the young talent they’ve collected. The way they’ve handled young pitchers thus far is perplexing at best, but we can clearly see the Reds development plan for their position players.

They’ve rightfully stayed with Jose Peraza in spite of his struggles this season and troubling offensive profile. Scott Schebler looked lost for the first few weeks of April, and the team’s patience with him has paid dividends. Last season, when Eugenio Suarez hit dreadfully in May (.173/.229/.357) and scuffled at third base early, the Reds let him adjust.

Giving young players with limited MLB experience a chance to adjust to the most advanced game on earth is prudent. It usually takes both pitchers and hitters time to figure out the speed of the game and overcome weaknesses that MLB players can expose. Mike Trout struggled early, as did Clayton Kershaw. It happens to almost everyone.

How long teams give a player to figure it out depends on many factors including progress made, age, and other players waiting in the wings. Players can provide value in different ways as well.

Billy Hamilton is playing in his fourth full season at age 26. If you believe the defense and base running metrics, he has been an above-average player overall producing between 2.0 and 3.7 WAR over the last three seasons. He’s the best combination of defense and base running in the game.

His problem has always been with the bat, and if we are honest, he hasn’t really improved since he reached the Majors. Right now, Hamilton’s 56 wRC+ places him among the five worst offensive players in baseball. He’s never been better than 21% worse than league average with the bat.

Do his virtues overcome his shortcomings at the plate? How long should the Reds wait for Hamilton to improve? Those are difficult questions to answer, especially with a potential elite bat waiting in the wings.

Jesse Winker has seemingly played in the Reds system since the dawn of creation. In reality, he was drafted as an 18-year-old in 2012 and methodically made his way through the minors, ranking as high as 26th on national prospect rankings (MLB). To this point, Winker has slashed .298/.398/.450 in his minor league career and currently sports an .810 OPS at AAA.

While impressive, Winker does have his deficiencies. By all accounts, Winker is a below-average runner who will likely be middling defensively. Since coming to AAA, Winker has also experienced a power outage that’s concerning for a corner outfielder.

Keep in mind that Winker did show plenty of power from rookie ball through AA. In 2015, after struggling to start the season in AA Pensacola, Winker slugged .497 and posted a .186 ISO from June 2nd until the end of the season. He hit 11 home runs in 345 plate appearances during that span and 13 dingers overall that year. The power is there somewhere and could re-emerge at some point.

Maybe it’s already begun. In Winker’s last six games spanning AAA and the Majors, he’s doubled six times, a sign that he might be beginning to drive the ball with authority.

Even if the power doesn’t return in full force, Winker has proven that he can punish a baseball. Eric Longenhagen at Fangraphs gives Winker’s future bat grade a 70 on the 20-80 scale, which is elite territory. It’s hard to find anyone that doesn’t like Winker’s approach and hit ability. But as we know, Winker has not only hit well at AAA, he’s hit a positional roadblock as well.

The Reds corner outfielders, Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler, have bashed opposing pitching for 35 home runs thus far in 2017. The two sluggers have mirrored each other in production with Duvall producing 117 wRC+ and 1.4 WAR to Schebler’s 116 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR. No one in their right mind would want to take those two out of the lineup, though a trade could be a possibility.

Winker’s ready, but it would take removing Hamilton from the lineup and moving Scott Schebler to centerfield to get Winker everyday at bats. That move comes with its own set of risks. While Schebler is athletic, he is a significant downgrade from Hamilton and likely a poor centerfielder. Winker may also be a downgrade in right from the current structure.

And yet, at 23, Winker is likely the future in one of the corner spots. If this truly is the year of sorting, the Reds shouldn’t keep him in purgatory forever. He needs a couple hundred at bats in the Majors to begin to adjust.

To get Winker those at bats, the Reds could bench Hamilton or explore some type of platoon system where Schebler slides over to center three or four times a week.

Benching Hamilton completely is tough because he is still only 26, and his defense makes up for plenty of the sins of the pitching staff. I can’t bring myself to that point yet even though I see the argument. It doesn’t help that Schebler looks like an extreme drop off on defense.

But the Reds will have to make a decision sooner or later about which three outfielders they want to play going forward and to wisely decide, Winker needs to play substantially this season. If not right now, it needs to happen soon.

Maybe the Reds package a current outfielder with something else at the trade deadline. If so, Winker will get two months of regular playing time. If all four outfielders remain, the Reds should make Billy a part-time player and give Winker as many plate appearances as possible.

He’s too good to keep down in AAA forever. If Winker’s time isn’t now, it better be coming very soon. At some point, the future needs to become the present.

28 Responses

  1. mdhabel

    It has to be there somewhere. I am hoping it is still the wrist injury playing a factor, maybe with him slightly affecting his swing/approach and that the power come back over time.

  2. Kap

    I agree with this all. Plus I’m pretty sure Schebler would do better in center than Choo did years ago. Choo has horrible but like you said his bat was worth it. Same for Duvall, Winker, and Schebler

  3. I-71_Exile

    This is good info. Thanks for sharing. Comfort should definitely help as might a little time in the weight room and some learning at the feet of the Vottomaster should Jesse be so inclined.

  4. IndyRedMan

    I think Atlanta bats Nick Markakis 6th or something? The current version of Markakis could be pretty close to the rookie Winker’s capabilities.

  5. Chuck Schick

    Billy Hamilton and Charlie Blackmon are both lead off hitters. Both play for teams who are very good offensively.

    Charlie Blackmon is a superior offensive player to Hamilton….that is beyond argument.

    Charlie Blackmon has been on base 107 times this year and has been driven in by his teammates 46 times. Billy Hamilton has been on base 86 times and has been driven in 43 times. Blackmon has 25 more plate appearances and has been on base 21 more times…..Blackmon also has 14 more HR’s…again, he is a better offensive player.

    Blackmon has 30 more hits in 25 more PA’s. He has walked 1 more time in 25 more PA’s. Blackmon has been driven in 3 more times despite being on base 21 more times in 25 more PA’s. The Rockies have the 4th highest OPS and the Reds the 6th. Both players are surrounded by other good players.

    Assuming both players get 600 PA’s, Blackmon will score 25 more runs than Hamilton…about 1 run per week. Of those 25 runs, all 25 will come from the fact that Blackmon is on pace to hit 25 more HR’s than Hamilton.

    • IndyRedMan

      Lets put LeMahieu up against Peraza while you’re at it! LeM won the batting title last year and is hitting .304 with 42 runs this year batting 2nd. Peraza swings once or twice and goes and sits down again. We just can’t carry both of them! One batting 9th could work but Prusty don’t play that! I sort of follow Tampa because I have several of their players in fantasy. Dickerson has led off…Souza the other day. Kiermeier too….they’ve prob had 4-5 guys leadoff atleast. Why does the Reds rebuild always involve the same #*$& down the same ineffectual way….day after day….week after week?

    • Chuck Schick

      No reasonable person would chose Hamilton over Blackmon. Because of his power, Blackmon’s offensive contributions are vastly superior. However, Blackmon isn’t an option for the Reds.

      When Hamilton leads off an inning he’s actually a decent offensive player. When he faces a pitcher for the 1st time in a game, he’s actually pretty decent. He’s bad the 2nd time and awful the 3rd….which is the complete opposite of almost anyone else.

      He’s rather good in the 1st inning and the 7th…the 2 innings that are most likely to have a first shot at the pitcher. Does he see more fastball when leading off an inning since teams don’t respect his power and no one wants Hamilton on 2nd with Votto up and less than 2 outs? Maybe…probably. Is he more likely to be thrown breaking pitches when he doesn’t lead off and there are likely already outs on the board? Probably. Is his inability to hit in those situations correctable? At this point, probably not.

      My point is that his ability to score, due to his speed, at least partially offsets his inability to consistently get on base.

      • IndyRedMan

        WHen he’s not beat down and out of the lineup because he’s 150 lbs year after year after year! You’re def not wrong and he might be the best defensive outfielder I’ve ever seen! His arm is amazing for how scrawny he is! He just needs to bat 9th or accept a def replacement/pinchrunner role which he probably wouldn’t do? If the Reds pitchers ever improve enough where we’re in a lot of 1 run games late then he becomes a big weapon off the bench as a pinchrunner!

  6. JO (@ghettotrout1)

    I also agree with all of this. You should send this article to Dickey W and tell him to just follow this advice lol.

  7. Why oh Why

    GABP will certainly help him, and like Steve said i think we would all take 15-20 dongs per year, .280AVG/.360OBP. Average glove, Average range, Average arm. He would be the definition of adequacy as our corner OF for a long time, sign me up.

    • joshtrum

      15-20 Dongs seems, in the least, bearable for a Corner OF

  8. citizen54

    Ya with the amount power in this lineup what we really need to complement them is some high obp guys.

  9. mdhabel

    You can never have too much power and this team will not be the same when Winker hits his prime. Cozart will be gone, Votto is already 33. Who knows about Duvall and Schebler. Winker almost instantly joins Suarez as a core guy if he can find that power from his early career.

    • citizen54

      Votto is having his one of best years at 33. I’m kind of curious to see if his decline will be gradual or sudden. My bet is on gradual.

      • wkuchad

        after a few years of dropoff, I’m thinking Sean Casey in his prime, which i’m good with.

      • mdhabel

        Definitely not saying to count Votto out yet, but thinking long-term (and there are a lot of other things that can happen, I understand), Winker has the potential to anchor the lineup in a Votto-esq way if he can regain the power. Without it, he is a 110-120 wRC+ guy with so-so defense and baserunning. Not really someone to build around.

  10. Matt Von Dielingen

    Duvall came up a 3rd baseman, Suarez came up a shortstop. If Cozart is out why not move Duvall back to 3rd Suarez back to Short and Peraza to 2nd to make room for Winker in left?

  11. DavidTurner49

    Great article Nick.

    IF this is a rebuild year Winker has to play regularly. Hamilton tends to break down anyway so why not start a platoon as proposed in another great article here a while back?

  12. Tom

    What if there was a hybrid. What if Schlebler starts in Center and Winker in Right. Then, when Winker gets on base late in the game, insert Billy to run and then go back to the current configuration. The defense goes up and it maximizes what each player’s skillset and the value they bring to the club.

    • DavidTurner49

      Makes sense. Also Billy is much better hitting rh than lh, correct? Platoon could also work with that.

      • Nick Carrington

        Billy’s been much better this year from the left side than the right, but for his career, his numbers are similar from both sides, especially before this season. A little more power from the right but not much.

        Left .634 OPS 0.77 ISO
        Right .601 OPS 1.02 ISO

      • DavidTurner49

        thanks for setting me straight on that Nick

  13. bouwills

    I’m not sure that demoting Billy H. to a part time outfielder & late inning baserunner is such a good idea. If he’s not going to be your everyday CF & leadoff hitter, then make a clean sweep of it & make a trade. The Reds future is about seeing another 250 AB from Duvall, Schebler, & Winker this season..

  14. Chuck Schick

    When Hamilton leads off a game and/or inning his numbers are rather good. Unlike most players, he gets worse as the game goes on against the same pitcher. For instance, 30% of Votto’s RBI have come in the 1st….with most of those RBI actually being Hamilton. We also know that the Reds starters are worse than the relievers….so having your best defender playing early on is more beneficial than later on.

    So what if Winker pinch hits for Hamilton for his second or third at bat? You’re bringing in a better hitter at the exact moment the pitcher is starting to lose his mojo….and the Reds need for defensive wizardry is decreasing because better pitchers will be entering the game. Over the course of a game, Winker winds up with more PA’s than Hamilton….and Hamiltons PA’s align with when he has actually experienced success.

  15. jtburns11

    Wow! So basically we can expect Billy to square one up roughly 5 to 6 times this year. I enjoy his D and baserunning but I can’t imagine an outfield of Duvall, Scheb, and Winker would provide less total value than what we’re getting with Billy included right now. Thanks for those calculations, very interesting.