- Born on August 17, 1993, in Buffalo, NY, also the birthplace of Hall of Famers Warren Spahn and Jimmy Collins, former Cincinnati Red spring training superhero Dave Sappelt, and turn-of-the-other-century slugger Babe Herman (who is in no way related to George Herman “Babe” Ruth)
- Attended high school at Olympia HS in Orlando, FL, which also produced Nick Gordon, the #4 overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins, as well as former star NFL running back Chris “CJ2K” Johnson
- Stands 6’3” while weighing somewhere in the ‘best shape of his life’ vicinity of 215 lbs
- Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1st round (49th0 of the 2012 MLB draft
- Made MLB debut on April 14, 2017
- Exceeded rookie limits in 2018
- 2.08 years of service time; set to reach arbitration for 2021 season
Winky GIFs (literally)
It feels a bit like we’ve waited forever for the seemingly inevitable Jesse Winker breakout. In many ways, we have.
This 2020 MLB season will be his 4th, yet he has still never topped 384 PA in any big league season. Heck, even in the minors he only once topped 500 PA back in 2015. Injuries to his wrist, shoulder, and neck have derailed promising early campaigns, and despite his potentially elite offensive profile, it sure does feel like we’ve only been able to watch the tip of the iceberg with the sweet-swinging lefty.
The question, of course, is if we’ll ever see that. I ask that in part due to the injuries, obviously, but also because of what the Reds have done around him.
It seems that in many ways the Reds approached the 2019-2020 offseason with their position players in much the same way they approached the 2018-2019 offseason with their pitchers: keep as many of the young, still developing pieces as possible, but add proven veterans around them on the off-chance the youngins still don’t produce enough. Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, Trevor Bauer, and Wade Miley were brought in to do what they do, and it meant the likes of Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano, and Robert Stephenson all had to either adapt or get out of the danged way. This time, it’s Nick Castellanos, Shogo Akiyama, and Mike Moustakas brought in as reinforcements, and Winker sure feels like he’s in the group that’s going to have to kick the door down in a more emphatic way to play in 2020 than he did in the previous, rebuilding years.
The upside there is still obvious, of course. Winker is the owner of a career .285/.379/.466 line, good for a 120 OPS+ and 122 wRC+. But where Winker has truly excelled in his short spurts is against RHP, where he ranks among some of the truly elite offensive players in the game.
Since the start of the 2017 season, 249 big leaguers have logged at least 700 PA against RHP. Winker is one of them, and has mashed them to the tune of a .307/.396/.511 line. His 137 wRC+ against RHP in that time ranks 21st among that group, just ahead of Mookie Betts (136) and right on the heels of both Bryce Harper (140) and Alex Bregman (139). His .396 OBP against them ranks 9th out of that huge sample, too. In other words, when there’s a righty on the bump, there’s not a lineup the Reds can roll out that shouldn’t have Winker in it.
Against lefties, though, things tell a much different story, and that’s probably a good tell on how the Reds will build out their 26-man roster around Winker. Though there’s certainly a near minuscule sample to work with on Winker against LHP - largely because the Reds have avoided even giving him the opportunity to face them in his career - the results, to date, have been quite poor. He’s the owner of a career 52 wRC+ against them in just 147 PA stretched across 2017-2019, and of the 389 MLB players with at least 140 PA against LHP in that time, Winker’s wRC+ ranks as the 17th worst. Billy Hamilton, for reference, ranks just slightly worse with a 46 wRC+ against them in that time. And considering over that same span Phillip Ervin has posted a 135 wRC+ against LHP, it certainly seems as if the Reds have the option of a pretty potent platoon over in LF for 2020.
It would be immense if Winker somehow broke through that platoon barrier and reached superstar offensive status, but the Reds have built-in enough around him to not really even need to spend time finding out this year. In theory, that would still give Winker, if healthy, ample opportunity to get some 500 PA this season, and doing so will likely give the Reds an incredibly potent bat there for that sample.
In the field, Winker’s someone who largely makes the plays he can get to, but doesn’t get to many. As the Statcast ranking above suggest, he’s pretty sub-par at both outfield jump and sprint speed, which certainly jives with FanGraphs’ suggestion that he’s a net negative both on defense and on the bases, which is still totally fine if he stays healthy and produces in the scenarios where he’s asked. A healthy, 500 PA season of Winker against mostly RHP while hidden/shifted deep in LF could, in theory, be a player that flirts with a 3 WAR season, and that would be a major boon to the Reds on the whole. The talent is certainly there - hell, perhaps there’s more than even that given his excellent eye at the plate - but we once again will have to hope he stays healthy enough to put that all together.
Hopefully, 2020 is merely the first season in which we get to see Jesse Winker ready and healthy every day, as that’s the kind of bat that will help win a pile of games.