The Cincinnati Reds top position prospect coming into the season was universally accepted to be Jesse Winker. If you asked again today I don’t think that you’d get a different answer from just about anyone, but that’s not to say that Winker isn’t having some struggles in 2015.
What makes Winker such a strong prospect is what he’s been able to do at the plate. He’s shown good plate discipline throughout his career, walking nearly as often as he’s struck out. When you couple that with the power he’s hit for and the power potential he has, it’s made Winker not just the Reds top position prospect but one of the top positional prospects in the game.
Here in the 2015 season he’s got a triple slash line of .239/.336/.345 (stats before the Thursday night game). He’s walked 15 times and he has 19 strikeouts, but he’s hit just seven extra-base hits in 32 games this season. The plate discipline has been there, but Winker simply hasn’t hit for the kind of power that’s made him a top prospect.
So the natural question is: Where has the power gone?
Last season ended early for Winker after injuring ligaments in his wrist. Wrist injuries can sap a players power for a year at times, and while we could point to that some, what he did in the Arizona Fall League suggests that it would probably be a false narrative. In Arizona he slugged .559 while leading the league with a .338 average.
Pensacola’s home stadium has historically crushed power output to right field, which is the pull side for Winker. It’s also helped tremendously to boost power for hitters to left field. Winker uses the entire field with the best of them, so the park may not effect him quite as much as some other left handers who are more pull oriented. But, looking at his splits, his home isolated power is just .041, while on the road it’s .156, nearly four times as high. So maybe the home ballpark is causing some problems, but even so, his isolated power on the road is lower than his career average by a decent amount.
The biggest factor, in my mind, comes down to his batted ball type. Let’s take a look at his batted ball rates over the last three season:
The 2015 season sticks out like a sore thumb. His groundball rate has gone through the roof while his flyball rate has plummeted. It’s incredibly difficult to hit for power when you are hitting the ball on the ground. Grounders don’t go over the fence and they don’t often go for extra-base hits.
Winker’s simply catching the top of the ball too frequently right now. He’s never had this problem before and it’s probably something that’s going to correct itself in the long run. His swing doesn’t look like he’s changed anything from last year, so it’s likely a matter of a very small adjustment to get the bat a quarter of an inch lower on the ball to get under it and get the ball into the air a little more often.