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Prospect Winker goes back to basics in offseason

Young outfielder spends time in Florida working with dad on honing his swing

CINCINNATI -- Reds outfield prospect Jesse Winker hasn't waited for Minor League camp to begin working towards achieving his goals for 2014.

A Buffalo, N.Y., native, Winker grew up outside of Orlando, Fla., where his parents, Joe and Karen, run a hitting warehouse that was originally founded by former Reds outfielder Dante Bichette. It was there where Winker first developed his left-handed swing. It's again where he continued to hone it this winter.

"There's never a day where you can't get better at something," Winker said. "All offseason, I've been working with my dad. We've gone back to basics on how we used to hit back in the cage. We've been talking hitting, watching some video, breaking stuff down together. There a couple of things I want to work on with my load, but besides that, it's really about keeping everything simple and having fun. I don't like to think too much. I just like to get up there and hit."

Only 20 years old, Winker's hitting numbers through two seasons in the lower rungs of the Minor Leagues indicate he's doing a whole lot of things the right way already.

Ranked as the organization's No. 5 prospect in 2013 by, Winker batted .281/.379/.463 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs in 112 games for Class A Dayton. A high ankle sprain shortened his year slightly near the end, but he has since fully recovered.

"It was a great year in Dayton," Winker said. "It started with the fans. It was fun to be a part of a very electric atmosphere. I'm ready to get this year going and carry it over. Hitting-wise, I had a good approach and a good mindset. I stuck with it all year. Even if I was in a slump, I'd just go back to basics with it."

Winker showed some discipline at the plate with 63 walks compared to 75 strikeouts.

"He's really taken to studying the game and trying to perfect his craft," Reds player development director Jeff Graupe said. "For being a 19-year old in the Midwest League last year, he took consistently quality at-bats. You don't see many 19-year-olds with a strikeout-to-walk ratio that successful while still doing damage and having a good slugging percentage. He had a great year."

At Rookie-level Billings in 2012, where he landed after being selected as a supplemental first-round pick (49th overall) in the First-Year Player Draft out of Orlando's Olympia High School, Winker batted .338/.443/.500 in 62 games.

To expedite his progress, Winker needs to keep learning and growing at the plate. The Reds certainly have some goals in mind heading into this season.

"I think he's ready to take the next step of not giving away many at-bats," Graupe said. "He's done a good job of that for such a young guy. I think consistently dialing in and seeing the way the great hitters take that next step by grinding out every pitch, every at-bat. I think that's where Jesse is headed."

Besides having his father as a resource, Winker also benefitted from learning about life in the Minors from his older brother, Joseph, who spent three years playing in the Dodgers system before retiring this winter. Winker is easygoing and mature for his age, clearly comfortable on the stages of last month's Reds Caravan, in which he was one of the participants.

"I was hearing a lot of support," Winker said. "A lot of people were checking in about my [ankle] injury and stuff like that."

Indications are that Winker will begin this season one level closer to the big leaguers at Class A Advanced Bakersfield. He is expected to play both corner outfield spots after primarily playing left field in Dayton.

When Reds big league camp opens for Spring Training next week, Winker won't be one of the young players invited to take part. There's certainly a chance he could be on a travel roster for a few exhibition games if the club needs an extra player, with the belief he could, at minimum, hold his own against more experienced pitching.

"He's professional from day 1," Graupe said. "He's very task oriented, knows what he wants to do and how he's going to get there. I think he's well on his way."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
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