Sweet-swinging Winker shows great promise for Reds
No. 3 prospect has excellent eye, could have homer potential with development
There is a great deal to like about Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect Jesse Winker. To begin, he has a completely uncomplicated, sweet stroke at the plate. And it's that natural swing that has led him to become No. 3 on the Reds' Top 20 Prospects list. Winker can hit.
Winker went to Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla. He hit .488 with three home runs and 30 RBIs as a senior. Winker had planned to attend the University of Florida before Cincinnati selected him with a supplemental pick in the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Currently out of baseball, Winker's brother Joseph was a prospect in the Dodgers organization prior to this season. Their parents run a hitting facility, and Winker was able to refine his stroke with his dad's assistance. He has constantly been around hitting in his life.
I was fortunate to see Winker play for the U.S. Team in this year's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Minneapolis. He started in left field and batted seventh. Winker got a double off Giants left-handed pitcher Edwin Escobar and scored a run in two trips to the plate.
Winker has an extremely good baseball frame, at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. He is athletic and looks like he should be playing baseball for a living. A left-handed hitter, Winker is best suited in left field.
Winker's most advanced tool is his ability to hit for average. Using a quick, short stroke, he has excellent eye-hand coordination and uses his measured swing to take pitches where they are thrown. A patient hitter, Winker has an excellent eye at the plate and an advanced knowledge of the strike zone. Taking pitchers deep into counts, Winker makes contact and has struck out only 193 times in 1,102 plate appearances over parts of three Minor League seasons. He has a composite batting average of .297 in his career. Winker's bat speed and line-drive swing plane will remain the foundation of his outstanding hitting mechanics.
While we haven't seen a huge breakout of power yet, Winker has already flashed some long-ball promise in his brief career. For example, he hit 16 home runs last year at Class A Dayton. Winker is already close to that figure in half a season this year at Class A Advanced Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola, where he is currently assigned. He has won two home run derbies in his career, so the power is coming.
Winker won't be 21 until August. He has flown through the Reds system, and his hitting has kept up nicely with the advanced pitching he has faced. Winker was scuffling a bit at Pensacola before being sidelined recently with an injured tendon in his right wrist, but the sample size isn't large enough to reach any negative conclusions, and the injury isn't expected to require surgery. I think he'll rebound nicely.
It's quite possible Winker will gain some strength in his upper body as he continues to mature. If that happens, he could easily be a pull-side, right-field-hitting power factor in Cincinnati's lineup. In the worst-case scenario, Winker will hit lots of gap doubles and drive in runs from a likely sixth or seventh spot in the order. Not particularly fast, I don't think he profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter.
Defensively, Winker is best suited in left field where his average arm and moderate speed play best. He will have to read the ball well off the bat and get a good jump on the ball to achieve the maximum efficiency from his average instincts and limited closing speed. I don't think he'll be a liability in left field, but he isn't the best of outfielders.
Clearly, Winker's future is as a pure hitter with the ability to get on base and drive in runs. Many feel he is the most solid hitter the Reds have selected in the Draft since Joey Votto in 2002.
Ultimately playing in a hitter-friendly park in Cincinnati, the Reds can look forward to an advanced hitter that will make the pitcher work. Winker's maturity and excellent size, strength and natural ability will carry him to a healthy batting average as a force at the plate.