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Friday, June 13, 2014

Jesse Winker: a near-future answer in left field?

Reds' prospect Jesse Winker has been having a terrific season in high-A Bakersfield.  He was a 1st-round (49th overall) compensation pick in the 2012 draft when the Reds lost Ramon Hernandez, and so far has vastly outperformed the Reds 1st selection that draft, Nick Travieso**.  He was the Reds' consensus #4 prospect entering the season, and had really strong preseason Oliver projections (0.331 wOBA, *if* he played in MLB this season).  Well, he hasn't disappointed:


And that performance is despite missing a week or so with a concussion following a collision with a wall.  Apparently, it's not currently a factor.

Doug Gray had a nice piece yesterday comparing his raw performance to that of other recent uber-Reds prospects, namely Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Devin Mesoraco.  The short version?  Albeit with caveats, he's comparing extremely well.  Excellent walk rates, solid strikeout rates, and excellent power (as mesaured by ISO).

What are the caveats?  Three big ones:

  • Competition level.  Jay Bruce did spend some time at high-A, but also spent time at more advanced levels.  However, Votto and Mesoraco were primarily at low-A in their age-20 seasons, meaning that Winkers numbers are even more impressive in comparison with him.
  • Run environment.  Because the Reds' High-A affiliate is now in Bakersfield, Winker gets to play in the California league.  That league has the highest run environment among leagues above rookie ball (~5.3 runs/game when I looked at this between 2007-2009).  And furthermore, Bakersfield is a moderate hitters park for that league (runs park factor 1.03), and is especially favorable to the home run (1.15).  By comparison, the midwest league is quite pitcher friendly, even if Dayton is a bit of a hitter's park (park factor 1.07), meaning that the games played by Votto and Mesoraco are close to neutral.  When Bruce played in high-A, he was playing in Sarasota with the Florida State League, which is about as pitcher-friendly of a league as you can find.
  • Sample size.  Doug is comparing Winker's 239 PA's against a full minor league season by Bruce, Votto, and Mesoraco.
Nevertheless, despite all of that, it's very encouraging to see Winker performing so well!  I think it's reasonable to expect a mid-season promotion to AA at this point.  If he hits well there, he could potentially be at least a long-shot for left field coming into spring training in 2015.  This possibility was discussed by Joel Luckhaupt in a recent Redleg Nation Radio.  Goodness knows that the Reds could use some help in left field!

** This was not to condemn Nick Travieso.  After a slow start to his career, Travieso is having a quality season at Dayton this year as a control-oriented starter.  His strikeout rate is still far from where I'd like it to be, but he could potentially still work out to be a back-end starter.  Doug Gray has said that he's seen Travieso throw in the mid-90's over the past year (albeit inconsistently), so there might still be stuff there to succeed.