All year, we waited for the Jesse Winker call up. It was supposed to be inevitable, but it never happened. There are a variety of reasons. The Reds seem to want to give Scott Schebler a look, for instance, and so he’s getting at bats right now. Winker, as far as we all know, is still a foregone conclusion. That is, he doesn’t need to audition. At least not yet. Winker, after all, just finished his age-22 season. He was one of the youngest players in AAA and even if he didn’t have the season many wanted him to have, it was still a good season.
I was at a lot of Bats games this year. A lot. For most of them Winker was patrolling either left or right. Here’s what I saw:
Might as well start at the bottom. Winker is not a good defensive outfielder. At all. He will drive fans in Cincinnati nuts when he does get a chance. His routes were especially poor in right, which was a new position for him, but did improve as the season went on. He is not fast either. He is, in fact, among the slowest players I watched all year.
However, it did seem, toward the end of the year, that Winker was, ahem, strongly encouraged to work on his defense. For the last couple of months, I did see him get to many balls that he would not have gotten to early in the year. This is not to say that he suddenly became elite, but he did seem to find a gear that I didn’t know he had, so that’s encouraging.
He does have a solid arm that would probably play well enough in right. He’s not going to get a ton of assists but neither will runners take bases with impunity. I’d call it good enough to keep them honest.
This was the rub on Winker all year. He’s never been seen as a huge power guy, but 15-20 homer power was more or less expected and he generally delivered in the minors. This year, that fell of a cliff with Winker managing only 5 homers all year, two of which came in the warm, dry Arizona air on a rehab stint. In 448 PAs with Louisville, he slugged only .384. That is not good.
So what happened?
It’s worth noting that his doubles total (22) was reasonably consistent with previous years, but that’s not a huge comfort. I have a couple of theories. First, Winker re-injured his wrist this year and we all know wrist injuries can affect power. I don’t think it’s solely responsible, but I do wonder if it altered his swing mechanics. Very often, when I saw him, Winker seemed content to drop a flare into the outfield rather than give a swing that looked capable of generating power.
My other theory is that Winker was hurt by his home park. Slugger Field plays very large with the wind blowing in off the river most days. In my experience, Winker seemed to have the most power to left-center and that is the part of the field where the wind is almost always blowing straight in. I saw several balls hit there that would have been homers at GABP, but died on the warning track in Louisville. This may also have messed with his head a bit.
If you want to be encouraged, know that Winker HAS shown power. The Reds organization seems to have also made it clear that they expect more than a couple of homers from their corner outfielders. It would be very surprising if we didn’t see some kind of positive regression from him next year.
Jesse Winker walked as much as he struck out.
Let me write that again.
Jesse Winker walked as much as he struck out.
Jesse Winker finished the year with a .397 OBP for Louisville. You know as well as I do that Joey Votto is the only current Red with OBP skills like that. And from what I’ve seen, I don’t expect it to decline. You have to keep in mind that Jesse Winker is VERY young. He is, in fact, five years young than Adam Duvall and three years younger than Scott Schebler. Throughout his career, he has been 2-3 years younger than other players in his league. In AAA last year, he was 4.5 years younger than the average player. He is still developing. So, while we might reasonably expect a little dropoff when he is first promoted to the big leagues, he’s still developing and there’s no reason to think he won’t be a .370+ OBP guy in the future. He would, in fact, probably be an ideal 1 or 2 hitter.
Goofy is probably the word I heard used most often to describe Jesse Winker around Louisville this year. He is not an intense player, and that’s probably going to rile up a segment of the fan base, especially when you combine it with his mediocre defense and non-stereotypical hitting approach for a corner outfielder. But, regardless of what fans think of him, he is likely to be a good player. I cannot understate the importance of remembering that next year will be his age-23 season and, likely, his rookie season. (If you want to be encouraged, here’s a list of 23-year-old rookies from the last three seasons.)
I think next year, it will finally be time to free Jesse Winker.