It sounds absurd to say it, but 2019 will already be the 8th calendar year in which Jesse Winker has been a part of the Cincinnati Reds organization. Since being drafted 49th overall in the 2012 MLB Draft out of high school, he’s long been touted as a plus hitter with excellent strike zone recognition, and we finally, finally got to see his sweet left-handed swing on display during the best stretch of Reds baseball in years early last summer.
In a 46 game stretch from May 23rd until he injured his shoulder running the bases on July 23rd, Winker wasn’t just a rookie finally making some noise, he was legitimately one of the most elite hitters in all of baseball. That stretch saw him post a 1.001 OPS in 177 PA, in which time he hit .349/.460/.541 with 7 dingers, 32 arby-eyes, and more walks (29) than strikeouts (22). That, folks, is some peak Joey Votto-esque production, and despite the fact that defensive metrics were still bludgeoning his overall WAR values, Winker firmly established in that time that - when healthy - he’s going to be a huge part of the offense going forward.
Of course, that stretch ended with a busted shoulder that derailed the entire rest of his season, and surgery soon followed. Fortunately, though, he appears to be on-track for a full 2019 season, and he confirmed as much on MLB Network earlier today. Saying that he’s ‘feeling great,’ Winker mentioned that he’s already reached the weight-lifting portion of his rehab, which is a dang fine thing to hear.
The lone thing I have any concern about is whether the shoulder rehab will sap some of his new-found power, the one offensive aspect of his game that was largely lacking in his upper-minors work. Of course, he fought through a serious wrist injury for much of that and still managed to be an excellent on-base machine, so hopefully that’s the floor of the production we can expect to see from him early next season. Ideally, though, we get a return of the Winker we saw on display at the big league level in 2018, as that was exactly the kind of emerging star you build teams around.
In other news, MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon answered some fan questions in his latest Inbox, including inquiries about Sonny Gray as a fit on the pitching staff, finding pitching, developing pitching, coaching pitching, pitching, pitchers pitching, and pitching the idea of pitchers pitching pitches. It’s almost as if the fanbase knows the Reds need pitching.
In a related note, MLB Trade Rumors launched their annual free agent predictions contest, so if you want, you can go predict that the Reds will sign each and every free agent pitcher on the list. You will absolutely, positively lose the contest if you do, but at least it’ll be enjoyable enough to make you forget the last five seasons for a bit.
On another related note, Dick Williams spoke to Bobby Nightengale of The Enquirer about something that seemed to get blown out of proportion a bit by a few folks - needing existing pitchers to, y’know, be better than they’ve been. I’m assuming that’s infuriating to hear from some who have heard that same refrain for three years running, but at least this year it’s conceivable that the there are a trio of pitchers Williams is talking about that legitimately can take a large step forward. The Reds got a grand total of 2.6 fWAR from the trio of Luis Castillo, Anthony DeSclafani, and Tyler Mahle last year, but given what each has flashed in the past, it’s not at all outlandish to hope that each could reach or surpass that total mark on their own in 2019 - and that, paired with a major outside addition or two, is what the Reds will really need to be better as a team next season.
Also from The Enquirer: John Fay speaks to the perils of throwing too much money around in the free agent market, which is something the Reds have the ability to pull off this year for the first time in millennia. Considering I’m not exactly enamored with the big name starting pitchers who are free agents at the moment, this hit home hard.
Over at FanGraphs, Craig Edwards craigs together a ranking of the farm systems of each franchise post-2018, and does so by placing a dollar-amount on each of them. The premise is pretty straightforward - estimate the future WAR value of the top prospects in the system, assign a $ per WAR amount, tabulate, and rank - and fortunately, the Cincinnati Reds farm looks pretty danged good, all told.
Finally, if you’re an IT whiz and really want to work for the Reds, they’ve got a job posting up that might be right in your lane.