Jesse Winker is a damn fine hitter. He hit .303 with AAA Louisville just last year, .317 back in 2014 with A+ Bakersfield, and a stellar .338 when he first broke into pro ball with the Billings Mustangs in rookie ball in 2012.
The sweet swinging Cincinnati Reds prospect has long been viewed as a guy who could hit for high average, with MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo even picking him to lead all minor league baseball in average prior to the 2015 season. So, it should really come as no surprise that through some 50 games this season, Winker leads the entire AAA International League in batting average, hitting .321 on the season to date.
Perhaps more importantly, if you click on the column header just next to AVG on that FanGraphs page, you’ll see the league leaders in on-base percentage. And, of course, you’ll see Winker also leading the league in that category, his .399 indicative of both his great ability to control the strike zone and not fall victim to free-swinging. In fact, if you roll in his 2016 stats from AAA, he’s now walked 84 times against 85 strikeouts in his 158 games played in Louisville.
In a way, it’s those 158 games in AAA that are the number that sticks out the most, as they’ve coincided with a 661 PA sample that’s just about equivalent to a full-season of MLB play. Winker, however, still isn’t in AAA, despite owning a .309/.398/.392 line in that time, with 5 homers, 32 doubles, and 73 runs driven in to his name. Perhaps that’s due to the lack of power developing as he rises up the minors, with just those 5 dingers from the same prospect that once won the Home Run Derby at the Advanced-A All Star Game back in 2014.
It’s also surely due to the presence - and production - from both Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler at the big league level. That those two aren’t just performing well, but are doing so with miles of team control left on both of them, is causing a bit of a crunch for the future of the Cincinnati outfield alongside the incredible centerfield defense of Billy Hamilton. And with an infield rife with productive regulars and the lack of a secondary position (aside from corner OF) for Winker, it may well be that he can continue to lead the league in every offensive category without finding a way onto Cincinnati’s roster this year.
Although, one doesn’t have to hard to see that Cincinnati’s starting pitching has been abysmal this year, ranking dead last in baseball in ERA, BB/9, most every other peripheral category, and most certainly in fWAR. Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brandon Finnegan are all purportedly returning to the rotation in the coming month or so, but even career-average production from that trio won’t be the kind of thing that will propel this Reds team over the top and into playoff contention. That, of course, draws the eyes to potential starting pitchers who’ll be on the trade block between now and the start of 2018, and what the Reds would have to part with to add an arm that could finally, finally give them some dependability.
That’s putting the cart before the horse a bit, to be sure. But what isn’t is noting that the Reds have a glut with their corner outfield crop thanks in large part to Winker’s continued ability to hit, and for a team emerging from a rebuild that may just be a piece or two away from the thick of a division race, that’s a damn fine problem to have at the moment.