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Jesse Winker, Robert Stephenson Apart of ESPN Top 100

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Just how bright is the Cincinnati Reds future after all? Surely it won’t be decided by prospect rankings, but ESPN’s Keith Law is back at it once again, this time listing his individual top 100 players in farm systems across the country.

The Reds boast two such players. Checking in at #40 is outfielder Jesse Winker, while at #49 is flame-throwing right-hander, Robert Stephenson.

Jesse Winker – OF – #40 overall

First off, Mr. Winker. There was a considerable amount of chatter this off-season over whether or not he’d be able to make the monumental leap from Double-A straight up to the Majors for the beginning of the 2015 season. All thoughts of that disastrous plan have seemingly been put on the backburner, as the 21-year-old will continue to develop down on the farm, presumably beginning the year at Double-A Pensacola.

Law isn’t shy about his admiration for Winker’s play on the diamond, stating, “Winker is one of the most advanced pure hitters in the minors, considering swing, hand-eye coordination, approach and ability to make contact, and he’d rank higher if he had any place to play other than left field.” The opening part of that statement is some serious high praise. Winker is a tall kid, standing 6’3”, and to be able to call him one of the purest hitters across the entire slew of talent down on the farm is a serious testament to his ability.

It serves as a reminder that Law factors in where guys will be playing once they get to the show in his rankings. It’s blatantly obvious that center and right field are on lockdown in Cincinnati for the near future, meaning Winker will be a de facto left fielder for the time being. As Law puts it, “…[he will be] someone who’ll be discussed as one of the toughest outs in baseball.”

Robert Stephenson – P – #49 overall

If you haven’t already read our piece on Robert from earlier this week, I encourage you to check that out as well. It seems like Law is in the same boat as myself in thinking that this upcoming year will be a decisive one for the Reds’ young flamethrower. “If the fastball command, the changeup and the pitch selection improve, he’ll get back on track to be a high-end starter;” said Law, “If not, those two plus pitches [fastball and curveball] would make him a dynamite reliever.”

This also seems like the time to remind folks that not every electric pitcher making his way through the system pans out as a starter. Adam Wainwright, he of the St. Louis Cardinals, originally broke into the bigs as a closer. He almost single-handedly won them the 2006 World Series with his bullpen heroics. The same story nearly applies to David Price in 2008, minus the whole World Series element. While both of those guys went on to stick as starters, closers such as Jonathan Papelbon tried the transition and failed, before heading back to the ‘pen.

It’s difficult to know the true impact either man will have before he actually arrives in Cincinnati. While both will likely start the year down in the warm weather of Pensacola, Florida, it may not be long before both are cornerstones of the Queen City.

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