Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 2

Jesse Winker has been one of the higher-rated prospects in the Cincinnati system since they picked him with a supplemental first round selection in 2012. Though he came out of high school, he arrived with a plate discipline more like an advanced college player and he will be ready to show his skills with the bat at the AA level come opening day.

As this countdown closes down coming in at number two is the top-rated hitter in the Cincinnati system, Jesse Winker. He’s been in the organization since they invested a supplemental first round selection on him in 2012 and has with the bat since. Last season he started out at Bakersfield and slashed .317 AVG/.426 OB/.580 SLG/13 HR in 52 games. That launched him from a situation where he went from competing against older players to going up against much older ones and his bat finally slowed down while facing AA pitching at the age of 20. In his defense, he might have eventually gotten up to speed in the Southern League pitching last year, but his season was ended after only 21 games at Pensacola from an injury suffered in a car accident while traveling to play in the Futures Game.

A partial tear of a tendon put a cast on his hand and though it was season-ending it did not require surgery. It did put a bump in the road to Winker’s rapid ascent up the system and knocked out any chance he had of debuting at Louisville come opening day. He’s still only 21 years old though, and is definitely on the radar for a promotion some time in 2015. Key to his minor league success was his arrival with a plate discipline beyond his years. Even while struggling with a .208 average in his brief time with the Blue Wahoos last year he still managed an on-base percentage more than .100’ higher and lifetime in the minors he’s reached safely at a rate of .297 AVG/.401 OB.

Winker can drive the ball to all fields and profiles as a pure hitter at the MLB level. In his 248 minor league games his strikeout total (198) is not much higher than number of walks he’s drawn (157). There is still some uncertainty on how much power he projects, but the consensus is that the 6’3”/210# left-hander will provide a generous amount.

His biggest question mark since turning professional is where he will play defensively. Normally he would have worked his way up the ladder at first base, but a $200+ million contract extension to Joey Votto a few years ago has filled up the Reds dance card at that position into the foreseeable future. Hence Winker has been used almost exclusively in left field, where there have been opinions that he’s made progress, though his defensive stats do not really show it. At best he projects as an average left fielder and new questions on arm strength have created some doubts about his ability to play in right long term.

However, Winker’s skills in the batter’s box will guarantee he’s playing somewhere and long term it appears that Cincinnati has plans that it will be in leftfield for the Reds. New Red Marlon Byrd is 37 years old, so his acquisition appears to be more of a stop-gap than a long term option and after the breakout seasons from Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco there’s less need for the Reds left-fielder to provide a right-handed bat to hit cleanup. Besides, with Jay Bruce and Billy Hamilton on patrol Cincinnati outfield defense figures to be formidable regardless who is in left.

Winker is a mature hitter that never lacked success at any level before his brief time at Penscola last season. After his orientation to Southern League pitching followed by plenty of time observing it while wearing a cast, don’t be surprised if he comes out of the gate swinging a hot bat. He should hit AAA sometime this season and since he’s not on the 40-man roster, his chances for an expansion call-up in 2015 are still uncertain. Winker’s time is close, but he’ll likely have to wait until next year to make a splash at the MLB level.

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