Reds' Winker helps stage late rally in AFL play
Cincinnati's No. 2 prospect goes 2-for-4 with a double, drives in run in big eighth inning
Trailing Peoria by two runs entering the eighth inning Wednesday, Surprise began its rally at the bottom of its order. Luke Maile, the seventh hitter in the Saguaros lineup, led off the inning with a home run off right-hander Matt Lollis. Deven Marrero followed with a single, advanced to second on an error and, all of a sudden, Surprise was rolling.
The Saguaros turned their lineup over and leadoff batter Trea Turner drove Marrero in with a single. Another hit by Juan Perez brought Jesse Winker to the plate and Peoria manager Vance Wilson made the move to his bullpen for right-hander Louis Head.
Winker jumped on a first-pitch fastball, ripping a single past second baseman Daniel Castro to drive in Turner and give Surprise the lead. The Saguaros added another run and defeated the Javelinas, 5-3, in Arizona Fall League action.
"I was looking for a fastball up in the zone to hit," said Winker, the Reds' No. 2 prospect. "They changed pitchers so I knew he would want to get ahead so he could get to his offspeed stuff."
Surprise rapped out six hits and batted around in the eighth. Entering the inning, the Saguaros had been held to one run on four hits.
Winker said the difference in the eighth inning was their ability to string together quality at bats and get runners on base.
"We put together good at bats, especially Trea and Juan at the top of the order," Winker said. "When the catalysts get on base it sets up the 3-4-5 hitters."
Winker, ranked No. 40 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, finished the game 2-for-4 with a double. The left fielder was playing for the first time since leaving last Friday's game in the third inning due to a cramp in his right calf.
That minor injury kept Winker out of the Fall Stars Game on Saturday, but has done little more to slow him down. He is hitting .356/.443/.610 with 12 runs and 17 RBIs in 16 games. He ranks second in the AFL batting race.
Winker said he's pleased with his performance this fall.
"It seems like my hits are finding holes," he said. "That's part of the game though. I've gone through phases where they have and phases where they haven't. It seems like every guy throws in the mid-90s out here, so you just have to go up and try to battle them."
Marrero, the Red Sox's No. 10 prospect, went 2-for-3 with a double, a run and an RBI. Center fielder Nick Williams, the Rangers' No. 4 prospect and No. 84 on the Top 100, added two hits and scored a run.
Peoria took the early lead with a run in the second and added to it with another run in the fourth and fifth innings. Catcher Justin O'Conner and left fielder Jordan Smith were in the middle of all of the Javelinas scoring. Smith scored the game's first run on a wild pitch and he and O'Conner drove in Peoria's other runs.
O'Conner, the Rays' No. 14 prospect, went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk. Smith finished the day 2-for-4 with a double.
As Surprise completed its comeback Wednesday afternoon, Mesa finished defeating Glendale. The two results allowed the Saguaros to climb to first place in the West Division, a half-game ahead of both the Javelinas and Desert Dogs.
With seven games left in the season, all three teams are fighting for the division title and a spot in next Saturday's AFL Championship Game against the East Division winners. Surprise will play Glendale for the final time Thursday afternoon. The Saguaros still have two games left against the Javelinas, including a potentially decisive matchup next Thursday - the final day of the regular season.
Though the AFL is primarily a developmental league, Winker said the division race is bringing added meaning to the season's homestretch for the Saguaros.
"It puts a little more on the line when we play Peoria and Glendale," he said. "Those are some big games. We're here for a ring. The fall league might not be about winning, but we want to win. It's cool to come out here and have a pennant race coming down to the wire like this."