The gargantuan game put up by Jesse Winker during Sunday’s see-saw victory over the St. Louis Cardinals deserves a ton of dap. He gave the Cincinnati Reds their early lead, he made it bigger, and after the bullpen had squandered it entirely, he put them back on top for good. At day’s end, he sat tied for the National League lead in dingers honked while also sitting among the best of the best in SLG (1st), wOBA (2nd), wRC+ (2nd), AVG (2nd), and OPS (2nd).
With the Reds now nearly 60 games into their 2021 season, those are the marks of a breakout season. It’s undeniable that right now, in today’s game, there are few (if any) more potent offensive forces in the game, and anything close to this kind of production for the rest of the season is going to land some serious hardware (and future earnings) in both his trophy case and wallet.
If you back things up just a bit, however, those who’ve been watching Winker closely can’t be wholly surprised by this offensive dominance. The level of it, perhaps, but not the likelihood of him establishing himself as one of the premier bats in the game. It was the calling card that made him a 1st round draft pick out of high school, a perennial Top 100 overall prospect, and a player the Reds refused to trade during their long, dark rebuild. Still, those aspects describing a player who’ll turn 28 this season with nary an All Star appearance or single MVP vote do appear, on the surface, to miss a big part of the story.
That big part has been injuries more than underperformance. Rate stats are a brilliant way of measuring potency, but they define quality more than quantity, the latter being what haunted Winker for so long both at the minor league and MLB levels. In his 5th big league season, he’s played more than 89 games at the big league level precisely once, the 2019 season that saw him play 113 games before an injury cut it short. A busted wrist, a busted shoulder, a cervical strain, and even the pandemic-induced 60 game season in 2020 have done their best to keep him from putting up the kind of full-season numbers that cement a player’s status among fans across the game and begin to earn him his rightful reputation as one of the game’s elite hitters.
That short 2020 sample, though, was obviously not his doing. He stayed on the field throughout the Reds campaign, wrapping the year with a 137 OPS+ after leading the entire game in OPS for a time mid-year. In fact, after a brutally slow start to last season, Winker absolutely bashed over his final 42 games played, posting a 1.042 OPS with 12 dingers in his final 148 trips to the plate last season. Since that August 6th breakout last year, he’s hit a whopping .324/.409/.654 in 369 PA, and here are his ranks among all MLB players in that span:
AVG - .324 (2nd)
OBP - .409 (4th)
SLG - .654 (1st, with Ronald Acuna, Jr. a distant 2nd at .622)
SB - 1 (T-90th)
wOBA - .446 (1st)
wRC+ - 181 (1st)
HR - 29 (3rd, behind just Acuna and Fernando Tatis, Jr. at 30)
It’s pretty clear that Jesse has not only been seeing beach-balls coming his way for a long, long time now, but that he’s got some catching up to do to win that future stolen base crown.
In more Winker-related news, C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic took a look even further back in Winker’s professional career to see just where his power stroke developed.
In Reds prospect news, Baseball America released the first update to their Top 100 overall prospects list during the 2021 season. Each of Jonathan India, Tejay Antone, and Tyler Stephenson have logged enough big league time to no longer qualify for prospect status, but as Doug Gray noted over at RedsMinorLeagues.com, the Reds did place four prospects on BA’s updated list.
The Cincinnati Reds just swept the St. Louis Cardinals in a four-game series at #Bush Stadium. I don’t have a particular link for that, but just wanted to see it typed out somewhere again.
Reds prospect Mark Kolozsvary has largely flown under the radar since being selected in the 7th round of the 2017 MLB Draft out of the University of Florida, but an incredibly hot start to his 2021 season and a selection onto Team USA for Olympic qualifiers has certainly put a larger spotlight on him lately. So far, he’s done nothing but continue to shine in it, too, and as Gatorsports.com noted, he was a big reason why Team USA officially qualified last week. Playing with the likes of Todd Frazier and Homer Bailey, he’s brought a bat to match his solid receiving skills behind the plate, and had David Bell gushing about him, too. It’ll be very interesting to see how this breakout moves India’s former Gator teammate into the future catching discussions with this club.
Finally, here’s the 2021 MLB All Star Game ballot. Go vote like hell for Jesse and the rest of the Reds you find deserving, y’all.