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Winker improves defensively, aided by Larkin

MLB.com @m_sheldon

MESA, Ariz. -- Jesse Winker wasn't trying to convert from being an outfielder to the rare left-handed shortstop. The goal of Reds Hall of Famer Barry Larkin's drills was to make Winker a better left fielder by hitting him grounders to the shortstop position.

"I actually come up and throw it and do my footwork like I was in the outfield. It was like I was in left field, but at shortstop," Winker explained.

MESA, Ariz. -- Jesse Winker wasn't trying to convert from being an outfielder to the rare left-handed shortstop. The goal of Reds Hall of Famer Barry Larkin's drills was to make Winker a better left fielder by hitting him grounders to the shortstop position.

"I actually come up and throw it and do my footwork like I was in the outfield. It was like I was in left field, but at shortstop," Winker explained.

With Winker standing at shortstop, Larkin would hit him grounder after grounder. Playing on the dirt made the ball take different hops, with different spins, and come at him faster than it would on the outfield grass.

Winker would move to his left or right, or charge in, and then throw to the bases -- while working to improve his footwork.

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"He wouldn't let me take one off," Winker said of Larkin. "If I messed up, I'd have to do pushups. If I didn't do it right with the footwork, everyone was doing pushups. It was cool to be that intense during the offseason."

Video: Garrett, Winker are looking to improve in 2017

It was all part of a quasi-boot camp Larkin held with players in Winker's hometown of Orlando, Fla., at the Walt Disney World complex. Also included at the camp were Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon.

The Reds' No. 3 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, Winker has had a reputation of being a top hitter but lacking defensive prowess since he was a supplemental first-round pick in the 2012 Draft. As he has moved through the system, the 23-year-old has been trying to prove otherwise.

"I've always believed in myself as a defender," Winker said. "I've worked really hard at it, because as a player, when something's said about you that you don't agree with, you want to prove to everyone that, hey, I can do this as well."

In Wednesday's 9-0 Reds loss to the Angels, Winker put his offseason efforts into action in the second inning. On a lined single to left field by Cliff Pennington, Winker charged the ball well and made a nice one-hop throw to the plate that came in ahead of Ben Revere as he tried to score. Nevertheless, Revere kicked the ball away with his slide and was safe. 

Video: LAA@CIN: Pennington brings home Revere on liner

Winker has never doubted his arm strength.

"I just think my routes to balls and my angles to balls needed a little bit of polish," he said. "I was good on some pitches and not good on others, and I just overall want to lock it in more on defense. … It's helped me, and to be honest with you, it's helped me offensively, just locking in more on defense."

Larkin had Winker and his campers lift weights in the morning, followed by agility drills and then hit the field after that.

"We worked on him, basically, finding his rhythm and his comfort in attacking the ball, and trying to make sure there is a very aggressive mindset to everything we do on the field," Larkin said. "He did everything well, and felt really good about himself. It's all about building confidence. That happens when it feels like he has his feet underneath him and a good, solid foundation."

Winker batted .303/.397/.384 with three home runs and 45 RBIs in 106 games for Triple-A Louisville last season. Cincinnati's corner outfield spots seem set with Adam Duvall in left field and Scott Schebler in right field. Reds manager Bryan Price has played Winker exclusively in left field this spring, but plans to get him time in right field as well.

Video: CIN@OAK: Duvall hammers his first homer of the spring

It will be an organizational decision if Winker should make the club as a part-time player or get regular at-bats in Louisville.

"I think his defense is fine and getting better, and I certainly think he has enough arm to play left field," Price said. "The jury's out maybe on right field from an arm-strength perspective. But I don't have any issues with him defensively in the outfield."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Jesse Winker