Top 30 Reds Prospects: No. 6

Winker Impressed in Billings Debut

In the 2012 draft the Reds received a couple of supplemental first round picks and invested one of them in Florida high-schooler Jesse Winker. His youth did not stop him from lighting up pitchers for the third highest average/highest on-base pct. in the Pioneer League. That has created high expectations as he prepares for his first full professional season.

Cincinnati acquired Jesse Winker in the supplemental first round portion of last year's draft as compensation for free agent departure Ramon Hernandez. After a few good seasons with the Reds the 36 year-old catcher moved on to hit .217 in 52 games for Colorado, so it's already looking like a good trade for the Reds. Winker was regarded as one of the better high school hitters in the draft and he did not disappoint. The Reds skipped him over the Arizona League and saw him bat .338/.443 OB as an eighteen year-old at Billings.

It was a little surprising to see only five home runs in 62 games playing in the high altitude venues, but then again maybe it wasn't considering his youth. He still managed to slug over .500 and had the third highest OPS in the league. An increase is expected to his homer frequency, but even if it's modest he still projects as a mid-lineup run producer. Despite his age, Winker probably arrived too polished for Pioneer League pitching and drew walks in 14.5% of his plate appearances while his total (40) was close to his number of strikeouts (50). Actually, his BB's started increasing while his HR's dipped his final year in high school because opposing pitchers limited their offerings to him.

There is more uncertainty in the field where there are some concerns regarding his range in the outfield. He did make strides his final year in high school when he improved the efficiency of his routes and managed to reduce his time in the 60 yard dash by 0.4". Right now it's looking like left field is not a stretch and he has plenty of arm for right. If he doesn't stick then he still has a future at first base, but that would affect his value.

Still, it's no secret that his bat made him the 49th overall selection in the draft. He'll take it to Dayton to start the year and it will be interesting to watch him use it closer to sea level. In the box the lefty can already drive the ball to all fields with good gap power while his home run stroke is still limited to his pull side. At his age there's no reason to put him on a fast-track to Bakersfield, but he may get some consideration if he masters the new level early.

The Reds denied Winker's services to the University of Florida when they signed him with a $1 million bonus which was slightly under slot for his draft position. His performance certainly looked like he was ready to play professionally and expectations are high as he prepares for a full season in single A. Cincinnati was not the only organization of interest for his family last season because his older brother Joseph played in the Dodgers system. The elder Winker hit Arizona League pitching well in 2011 but struggled at Great Lakes last year so the two may be on a path to compete against each other in the Midwest League in 2013.

One thing for sure is that Jesse appears ready to compete wherever the Reds put him this season. Cincinnati upgraded their leadoff hitter and has high hopes coming into this season. Still, their lineup could benefit from another pure hitter like Winker projects to be. He even handled southpaws equally as well as righties during his debut. The way he made strides athletically to elevate his stock to a top-50 selection is impressive and at his age there's good reason to expect that to continue. It's still early in his career, but if he can answer concerns with the glove this young man could force his name into an MLB lineup in a few years.

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