Bakersfield jumped out to a commanding lead early and then held on for a 12-8 win over visiting High Desert. It was the third consecutive win by the Blaze and a loss by Modesto increased their lead in the California League North Division to three games.
The Blaze trailed briefly when they came to bat in the bottom of the first before Jesse Winker got the party started with a three-run home run. They wouldn't be finished in the inning because Seth Mejias-Brean added a two-run homer three batters later. The home team took a commanding lead the next frame when Marquez Smith doubled home two and Mejias-Brean's second homer in the game gave them a 9-2 lead in the fourth. Juan Perez added three more with his team's fourth long-ball in the sixth and it looked like they could put in on cruise for the remainder of the contest. The Mavericks however weren't done on the evening and they rallied for six the next inning which was not enough to overcome the ten-run deficit.
Winker led the way by going 4-4 with a walk on the evening while Mejias-Brean and Yovan Gonzalez added two hits each. Ben Lively got the win when he allowed two runs on four hits/two walks over the first five-plus innings. He ran up his pitch count by striking out eight and left early. It was only the second time this season he allowed more than one run and his ERA inched above the one run mark. Jake Johnson entered after a grand slam in the seventh and finished the game without allowing a run.
Big things have been expected of Winker since Cincinnati selected him in the supplemental first round of the 2012 draft and most consider him the top hitting prospect in the Reds' system. Since then he's hit well at Billings, Dayton and now Bakersfield despite being young at every level. His outburst Friday raised his average to .299 and he's now in striking distance of a .400 on-base average. The homer brought his season total to five and he's slugging .493.
The big question on Winker since turning pro has been where he will play in the field. An organization without Joey Votto might have started developing him at first base, but in the Reds system he's spent nearly all his time in left field. Thus far this season his range factor is 1.63 which is similar to what he'd done before and a just a little bit below average for the position. He's got plenty of arm and has gunned down 13 in his professional career while making six errors in 166 games which can certainly be tolerated from someone with his offensive skills.
Winker projects at a pure hitter and his career strikeout total (154) isn't much higher than the number of walks he's drawn (125). He cracked fifteen homers at Dayton last season and that total will probably increase this season in the high-altitude Cali League venues.
It might be a bit more challenging for the left-handed slugger to move his 6'3"/210# frame around in the outfield, but thus far he's done well enough to stick at the position. At the plate he can offer good power, average, and discipline so he's going to be a welcome addition to someone's lineup whenever the time comes. Right now when watching him hit high-A pitching it's easy to forget that he's still only 20 years old.
Winker has mastered every level into which he's been thrown and there's no reason to expect he won't be ready for AA by the end of the season if not sooner. If his range doesn't come around in the field he would likely bring a nice trade return, but it would be tough to watch him at the MLB level down the road in someone else's uniform. Right now it's in the Reds best interest to continue developing in left.
Every prospect has an element of risk that they will hit a wall as they advance up levels but given Winker's performance thus far he's one of the safer bets to not only make it to the MLB level, but make a significant impact while he's there. The current status of the Cincinnati outfield would give him some serious consideration to give it a try if he were a year or two older. Given the recent history of the Reds left field position it seems like that it will continue to be up for grabs over the near future. Winker's skill at the plate gives good reason to think that he'll get his shot in a couple of years.
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