Jesse Winker: The Next Jay Bruce?
First round picks don’t usually fly below the prospect radar, but Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jesse Winker has. No reputable website listed the Reds’ top hitting prospect as a top-100 prospect entering 2014. As a 19-year-old in 2013, he had a solid season (.281/.379/.463 63 BB to 75 SO) in the neutral Midwest League. When weighing age-versus-level, overall production and first round pedigree, the breakout performer deserved more accolades.
Enter 2014 and the former Olympia High School (FL) standout took the hitter-friendly California League by storm. After 53 games and an impressive .317/.426/.580 slash line, the Reds promoted their top hitting prospect to Double-A Pensacola. Next was an invitation to participate to MLB’s Futures Game. A double off of Edwin Escobar during the showcase started a media love fest. Proclamations the left fielder would be a future All-Star and he compares favorably to Reds slugger Jay Bruce pumped Winker full of prospect helium. Every mid-season prospect list included Winker’s name too. Did Jesse Winker mature into a top prospect, or did the hitter friendly California league create a monster?
At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Winker is nearing physical projection. The 20-year-old has massive calves and thighs. Adding additional leg mass would be detrimental to the slow footed outfielder. His upper body is filled out too. Likely to reach 220 pounds at full physical development, he has the potential to become stiff. Adding upper body mass can cause flexibility issues, compromising impressive bat speed.
Winker is limited to left field defensively as he’s slow to react to balls off the bat. While the former first round pick tracks fly balls well, the lack of foot speed limits his ability to make up ground. Poor arm strength further damages Winker’s defensive skills — short hopping throws from medium depth left field to second base.
Outside of Dodgers prospect Corey Seager (Scouting Report), Jesse Winker has the best hit tool scouted in the Southern League this season. During a June road trip against Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate Chattanooga, the left handed hitter was in the midst of his first slump of 2014. In the two game look, Winker struggled with pitch recognition against prospects Chris Reed (Scouting Report) and Andres Santiago. Despite not accumulating hits, the 20-year-old showcased enough hit tool to elevate his prospect status.
Winker has a fluid swing and quick wrists. Strong forearms aid in his ability to attack pitches. Despite struggling with pitch recognition, Winker is extremely disciplined, showcasing a strong batting eye. He’s adept at keeping his weight back on off-speed pitches. The outfielder battled against the left-handed Reed’s slider. On change-ups, Winker hurried his upper body. While chalking up his slump to battling advanced pitching, other factors contributed to the youngster’s struggle.
A slight hitch in the load was the root cause of Winker’s problems. In the trigger position, the outfielder drops his hands slightly. This forced his back shoulder to dip. The result? an uppercut swing and weak pop-ups. By the Future’s game a few weeks later, the hitch was history.
Winker’s 2014 season was cut short due to a torn tendon in his wrist. For a hitter who relies on quick wrists, the injury is concerning. Recovery from the injury bares watching.
having scouted Bruce in 2008, his raw power dwarfs Winker. Media members in Chattanooga still reminisce about the raw power displays the future all-star would present during batting practice. Nonetheless, solid-average power potential and an elite hit tool will result in 20-plus home run seasons at Great American Ballpark.
Due to his hit tool alone, Jesse Winker is a top-100 prospect. The youngster projects as a .280/.360/.460 hitter capable of extra base hits in bunches. While not perennial All-Star numbers in left field, he projects as an above average regular given the overall drop in power production at the MLB level. Being limited to left field is a minor concern, but he has enough pure hitting ability to be a productive big leaguer regardless of position. Expect an ETA of 2016 or later given Winker’s wrist injury and a need for further refinement.
Tool Present Future Projected Role First division Starting Left Fielder Hitting Ability 35 55 Power 40 60 Speed 35 30 Fielding Ability 40 45 Arm 35 35
Owning Jesse Winker
At the minor league level, prospect writers come across many prospects with sexy tools, but poor hitting ability. Without a decent hit tool, it’s impossible to project a Major League player. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a strong hit tool has the ability to prop up and otherwise blah skill set. Jesse Winker’s power is more than meh, but he’s definitely a player who falls into the second category of player. These players are often undervalued across the prospect spectrum. Winker being left off of top-100 prospect lists after a stellar 2013 is an example of this. With the injury, he’s a buy low for dynasty league owners in need of a steady third or fourth fantasy outfielder to rely on for years to come. Jesse Winker won’t provide speed, but he can be had on the cheap post injury and is worth stashing in leagues with eight prospects or more. – Mike Newman
7 Aug 2014 / Chris Blessing /
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