In the days leading up to Opening Day, we’ll be previewing The State Of The Reds at every single position on the field. Check out the previous installments of our Redleg Nation 2018 Season Preview series:
Heading into the offseason, the Reds outfield appeared to be ripe for trading away excess talent and freeing up a position for Jesse Winker. Naturally, no one was traded but rather a veteran outfielder was signed to a minor league deal and has been added to the mix in spring training. Unfortunately, the signing was Ben Revere and not Ichiro, as some Reds fans had been hoping for. Regardless of who was signed, the team continues to have a surplus of warm bodies who can play in the outfield and there are still only three places to put them, one of which is right field.
The two candidates for the starting right fielder job are the incumbent, Scott Schebler, and the rookie, Jesse Winker. In 2017, Schebler accumulated 1.4 fWAR as the starter while Winker showed promise in the little time he was given. Winker did not qualify as a rookie and remained a top 100 prospect in the eyes of most rankings. He has been working towards the show for some time now and appears to be over the minor leagues after five-plus years. However, Schebler is no scrub and showed top-notch power last year (.252 ISO) as well as improvement with getting the ball into the air, a good combination. If you factor out the month of July and his wRC+ of 20 that was driven by a bum shoulder, his season looks much better and makes one think twice about simply handing Winker the job.
Enter Bryan Price, who has openly discussed that he intends to utilize a four-man outfield rotation throughout the season. This will allow Winker the opportunity to get his first full-season’s worth of playing time while also providing the veterans with adequate rest. This may not be the perfect situation but it is certainly better than throwing Schebler in right field every single day and letting Winker ride the bench. Winker has the potential to be a cornerstone type player in the long-term and this is the right move to continue his development. At the same time, Schebler has shown he should not be overlooked as a key offensive piece in 2018 and has earned a share of the playing time.
Given that the four-man outfield essentially takes up a bench spot, the Reds will presumably only spend one additional roster spot on an outfielder. That spot is currently being contended by the recently signed Ben Revere, Phillip Ervin, and Patrick Kivlehan.
Primarily a left fielder in 2017, Revere is a 2007 first round pick who has put together a handful of decent seasons while playing for six major league teams in seven years. His value is driven almost completely from defense and baserunning, which may sound similar to another current outfielder. Revere has accumulated -1.2 fWAR over the past two seasons and figures to be on the outside looking in for a roster spot.
Phillip Ervin is the Reds’ 2013 first round draft pick and slashed .259/.317/.448 in his 28-game cup of coffee with the big-league team last year. Unfortunately for Ervin, his minor league production took a step backward as he slashed .256/.328/.380 in 99 games with Louisville. The fact that he can play centerfield helps his case a bit, but keeping Ervin on the Reds bench this year would not do him as much good as getting regular time at AAA. If he shows improvement, he can certainly work his way back into the conversation and could be a solid backup outfielder down the road.
That brings us to last year’s fourth outfielder, Patrick Kivlehan. In 204 plate appearances last year Kivlehan produced an 83 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR. He provides above average power which is good to have on the bench, but his calling card is his defensive versatility. Although he didn’t excel at any of them, he played all outfield spots along with 1B and 3B last year, which would help bolster the bench given the four-man outfield rotation. This seems like the safe bet that the Reds are destined to go with.
Down on the farm there are a few players who could make their way to the majors within the next couple of years. Sebastian Elizalde has cut down on strikeouts since his A-ball season but has lost almost all of his power. He was a below average hitter last year in AAA and will need to improve to have any chance at a backup role in the future. Tyler Goeddel played all over the outfield last year as he did well in Pensacola and held his own after a mid-season promotion to Louisville. He would also do well to find some power, as he only managed one homerun in 214 AAA appearances. Aristedes Aquino was added to the 40-man roster following his breakout 2016 in Daytona (.273/.327/.519) but followed that up with a dud performance last year in Pensacola (.216/.282/.397). Still considered a top-20 prospect in the Reds’ farm system, Aristedes has the most potential of this group and could become a major league contributor.
Ultimately, all this does is bring us back to the top and the fact that Jesse Winker has made it to the majors and is here to stay. He has performed at every level of the minor leagues, despite the drop in power at AAA. His plate discipline is super strong and helps give him a future value Hit Tool of 70 according to FanGraphs. It also doesn’t hurt that he will get to spend more time around Joey Votto, who seems to make everyone around him better. I expect Winker to have a strong rookie showing and earn the full-time job for 2019 and the foreseeable future.