After a sterling full-season debut in Low-A Dayton, Jesse Winker began the year as the 4th ranked prospect in the Cincinnati Reds system. The 2012 first round sandwich pick was assigned to the hitter friendly California League, with high expectations, as he entered his age 20 season in 2014.
Winker did not allow the expectations to affect his performance, as he rode a four- game hit streak out of the gate, batting .313 with a double, homer, and seven RBI’s. His hot hitting would continue on April 12th, when the young lefty began a five game hit streak, collecting multiple hits in each game. Winker capped his solid month with an impressive performance against the Modesto Nuts on April 23rd, by reaching base safely in all five plate appearances, smacking two doubles and a homer, walking once, and driving in four. For the month, he slashed a Votto-like .333/.413/.551, with a solid 15/11 K/BB ratio.
The first month of the season ended a tad prematurely for Winker, due to a concussion suffered on April 24th, but on May 7th, he resumed his assault on California League pitching, as he collected hits in each of his first four games back. After a brief slump in mid-May, Winker embarked on an eight-game mash fest to close out the month, hitting a ridiculous .500/.575/.853, jacking three bombs and walking as many times as he struck out (six). Once again, the young hitting prospect displayed excellent plate discipline, as he posted a 15.5% walk rate with a 19.4% strikeout rate, on his way to slashing .314/.417/.523 for the month.
If you were expecting a “June swoon” to counterbalance his red-hot May, you would be sorely disappointed. Winker absolutely raked in the first 11 games of the new month, clubbing six homers, knocking in 14 runs, and slugging an incredible .756, as he posted a video game-like 1.219 OPS. On June 18th, the Reds brass decided to spare the California League pitchers further damage, by promoting their young blue redschip prospect to AA Pensacola. Winker struggled with his first taste of AA pitching, as he hit a soft .205 over the remaining 11 games of the month, but he posted very strong peripherals, with identical walk and K-rates of 20%.
Winker’s production picked up in July, as he began to show that his early season power numbers were not inflated by the California League’s hitter-friendly environment, by posting a strong .237 ISO. Unfortunately, his season would be cut short by a right wrist injury stemming from a July 10th car accident. Winker attempted to play through the injury, and was even able to rip an opposite field double during the All-Star Futures Game, but on July 24th he was forced to the DL for the remainder of the regular season.
Fortunately, the wrist injury did not require surgery and Winker was able to get back on the diamond, as he participated in the Arizona Fall League in October. The wrist appeared fully healthy, as he destroyed the league’s advanced pitching, hitting .338/.440/.559. In a league that featured several of the baseball’s top prospects, Winker produced a standout performance, as he topped the league in both batting average and OPS.
Jesse Winker entered 2014 as one of the organization’s most highly regarded prospects, and ended the season as arguably the best hitter in all of minor league baseball. Winker torched the ball from April through July, and capped off his stellar, albeit inury-shortened season, by tearing up the game’s best prospects in the Arizona Fall League. Winker will look to continue his on-field progression with a healthy 2015, as he will be knocking on the doorstep of Great American Ballpark as soon as mid-season.
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