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Much like we saw yesterday with Robert Stephenson, the 2015 season didn’t get out to a strong start for Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect Jesse Winker. Through the month of May the 21-year-old was hitting .229/.343/.314. The power wasn’t showing up at all, hitting just eight extra-base hits through 181 plate appearances in that span. The plate discipline numbers were strong in that span, but the hits weren’t falling and when they were, they were often just singles.
Things began to change when June rolled around as he began to put the ball in the air at rates similar to what he was doing in the past after hitting tons of groundballs in April and May. In 98 plate appearances during the month the outfielder would hit .321/.408/.476 with seven extra-base hits, matching his season total coming into the month.
Over the next nine weeks he would continue to find plenty of success with the Blue Wahoos. In the final 247 plate appearances of the season, spanning 58 games, Winker would hit .306/.417/.505. His power really came through, hitting 14 doubles to go along with nine home runs. His plate discipline continued to be a staple of his game as he walked 37 times and struck out just 40 times.
After a rough start to the year, Winker showed the ability to make the needed adjustments and was fairly dominant of Southern League pitching for the final 14 weeks of the season as he showed off all of the things that was expected from him offensively as he entered the season as one of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos outfielder. His time was split between left field (83 starts) and right field (40 starts). Winker entered the year with 13 career assists in the outfield. In the 2015 season he topped that as he racked up 15 assists, with 11 of them coming from left field.
As noted above, in the first two months of the season Jesse Winker was having plenty of struggles to hit for power, largely in part due to the fact that his groundball rate was through the roof. That rate returned to his normal rates for the final three months of the season and the power returned. He noted later in the season that part of that reason was simply choosing better pitches to hit.
Hitting | The staple of things for Jesse Winker is his ability to hit for a strong average both now and in the future. He makes plenty of contact, can hit the ball hard from line to line and spreads the ball out quite well. His average should be above-average with a chance to hit .300 in his best years at the big league level.
Power | Scouts can be split in this category for Winker, with some believing he’s an 18-20 home run type of hitter in the future. At his peak he looks like a 25-30 home run guy if he can learn to pull certain pitches a little bit more often, with 20-25 home runs being the normal range for most of his career. He’s already showing the ability to hit the ball out to all fields.
Running | He’s a below-average runner, which limits him to the corners in the outfield, but he is not a lumbering runner out there.
Arm | Over the years he has gotten below-average reports on his arm, but it has improved since he has signed. While it won’t be a positive thing on the ledger for him, it’s no longer a big negative either.
Fielding | Much like his arm, the defense was once something that was a negative on the ledger for Winker. While he’s never going to be confused with a guy who can cover center field, he’s made improvements over the years to improve his reads and routes.
The overall package for Jesse Winker is about the bat and how much he is going to hit. At his peak he could be a .300/.400/.500 type of hitter who walks as often as he strikes out. His approach at the plate is patient, as he won’t swing at pitches he doesn’t think he can drive and will take borderline strikes early or when he’s ahead. At the same time, he will attack a pitch early if it’s something he likes. His strong pitch recognition skills allow him to work the count and let his hitting tools play well, even at a young age. He’s likely going to wind up in left field as his arm isn’t the prototypical above-average or plus that you tend to see in right field, but it’s strong enough that he could play right field if needed. The bat is about as sure of one that’s come through the farm system in a long time and while it may be the part of his game that brings all of the value, it projects to be a very good bat moving forward.