“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”
~Robert H. Schuller
Okay. It’s almost 2015. Pitchers and catchers report in less than 8 weeks. Who is going to play left field for the Reds on opening day? We still don’t know; but I will tell who will be playing left field before 2015 is over, Jesse Winker.
For those not familiar with the Arizona Fall League (AFL), it is a six team league ran by MLB that begins shortly after the regular season is over. The league is composed of primarily AA and AAA minor league prospects. Each MLB club holds a position draft to determine who is going to play in the AFL and each club can opt to send 1 Class A player. The league was created to provide a controlled, monitored scouting opportunity for MLB execs before players left for the winter.
The AFL is used to figure out where a prospect is in their developement. Players who do well in the AFL environment can jump ahead minor league levels. It is a quality league that resembles the futures all-star game on a nightly basis but over the course of a 32 game schedule.
This past fall, Jesse Winker did well in the AFL. He won the AFL batting title while hitting .338/.440/.559. The 6’3 210 pound Winker turned 21 last August and spent 2014 at high A Bakersfield (.317/.426/.580, 13HR, 53 games) and AA Pensacola (.208/.326/.518 in 21 games). The most exciting thing about Winker is his combination of power and plate discipline, In 2014, he totaled 68 SO and 54 BB in 74 games. Exhale.
Although a different type of hitter than Billy Hamilton, he is a far better hitter than Hamilton at similar ages and levels. His list of comparables includes Anthony Rizzo, Oscar Taveras, and Freddie Freeman. Now that is really exciting news. Of course there are naysayers out there. Not everyone loves him, but you would be hard pressed to find any prospect list that didn’t have him in the top 50.
If scouting is your kind of thing, Ethan Purser had this to say:
The ceiling, while not incredibly high, is that of a B.J. Surhoff-type hitter in his prime, one who can hit for a .280-plus average with home run totals in the high-teens/low-twenties with plenty of gap power. Despite the lack of plus tools across the board and the left-field profile, that’s an above-average regular in today’s game. He’s only 20-years-old in the Southern League, and while he has struggled initially to adapt to the way pitchers are attacking him, I see Winker eventually adjusting and making his way to the majors at the end of the 2015 season.
B.J. Surhoff. Are you freaking kidding me? That is wonderful. Surhoff played 18 seasons in the majors and did this over his career: .282/.332/.413. Those numbers include catching in over 700 games. I believe Winker has more power than Surhoff and the plate discipline numbers he is putting up probably mean some of those singles will turn into doubles and some doubles will turn into home runs. The Reds starting left fielder slugged .375 in 2014. It cannot get worse than that.
If this was some other organization, we may see Winker in the lineup sooner than later. However, this is the Reds and we are probably going to have to suffer through at least 80 games or so of a retread before we get to Winker. Here’s hoping Winker gets at bats very soon that matter in the MLB standings like this one.