CINCINNATI — If there has been any criticism, if it can be called that, of Jesse Winker as he progressed through the Cincinnati Reds system, it has been a perceived lack of power, something usually associated with a corner outfielder.
Winker pays no attention to and, in fact, said he has been told, “We’re not going to tinker with Winker.”
“They’ve told me not to worry about it, just to keep concentrating on putting the barrel on the ball,” said the 24-year-old supplemental first round pick in 2012. “And if I barrel one up and it happens to get up and get out, so much the better.”
BECAUSE OF INJURIES TO Scott Schebler and Billy Hamilton, Winker is getting daily playing time and is making the most of it — .277 in 94 at bats with six home runs. Most noteworthy, though, is that while Hamilton is out Winker has batted leadoff. And his .370 on base average has caught the eye of manager Bryan Price, especially with Hamilton’s struggles to get on base (.333 on base average).
“I like Winker’s on base percentage,” said Price. “I’d like for the speed component to be there also (it isn’t with Winker). But typically at leadoff you get one or the other. You’ve hit the jackpot when you have a guy who can run with a .370 on base average.
“In this case we have the guy with the on base percentage who doesn’t run well and the guy with a lower on base percentage that can really run. Nobody runs better than Billy Hamilton. They offer different skill sets but both provide value in that role.”
PRICE, THOUGH, KNOWS ONE thing for certain: “Billy Hamilton is my leadoff guy with what he makes happen on the bases.”
It doesn’t matter to Winker, who has batted anywhere from leadoff to fifth throughout his minor league career. What is important right now is that he is accruing valuable playing time.
“I like leadoff because it is easy having Cozy (Zack Cozart) and Joe (Joey Votto) hitting right behind me,” he said. “It is a great lineup with a lot of good hitters behind me. This past year, even in the minors, I’ve found more time in the leadoff spot, but a lot at No. 2 and No. 3, too. Doesn’t really matter, though. You are only guaranteed to be the leadoff guy one time and that’s in the first inning.
“I’m learning a lot and that’s the main thing,” said Winker. “I’ve been learning from everybody in this clubhouse and there have been a lot of positives for me. Since I’ve come here I’ve always had the mindset of just competing, no matter where I’m put. I try to keep it simple. My goal this year was to try to learn from these guys and become a better big leaguer.”
AS FOR HIS POWER IF he bats lower in the order, Winker pointed out that he hit 16 at Class A Dayton in 2013, 13 at Class A Bakersfield in 2014 and 13 at Pensacola last year. And he has six for the Reds in 94 at bats this year.
“The power? I’m not going to make any excuses for it,” he said. “I had hit for power in the minor leagues. But I’ve never got caught up in it. I’ve put together some good years while hearing the stuff about the power. Everyone told me, ‘Hey, just keep putting the barrel on the ball. Dont worry about it.’ So I don’t worry about it.”
ONE OF WINKER’S MENTORS when he first signed with the Reds and came to spring training was former Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. Bruce often took him out to dinner and paid every time. They remain close to this day.
“I texted Jay after the Cleveland Indians clinched their division last week,” said Winker. “In response, he shipped me another batch of his batting gloves. I’m really happy for him and it is cool that they’ve clinched. I can’t imagine the feeling.”
As part of the Reds rebuild, Winker hopes some day he can feel what Bruce is feeling and maybe he can send his mentor and close friend a box full of Jesse Winker batting gloves.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Billy Hamilton is eligible to come off the disabled list, but just had the splint removed from his left thumb and has yet to take batting practice. So will he be activated soon and be used as a pinch-runner?
“It is more of a probability than a possibility,” said manager Bryan Price. “It is likely he would be activated to be a pinch-runner, we’ve all talked about it. When he is activated I don’t think you’ll see him starting in center field.”
Winker is definitjely major league ready, which poses a dilemma for 2018 with Hamilton Schebler and Adam Duvall ensconced in the outfield. There is no room, so what is Price thinking?
“Before I put my foot in my mouth right now I’ll probably wait until Opening Day next year,” said Price. “Then that’s a question I would have to answer. It’s realistic when you’ve gotten through the off-season and you know who is on your team, you know who you’re injured players are.
“But we want to be deep, we want to have options,” he said. “You always want to feel like you’re strengthening your bench.”