Despite the Cincinnati Reds recent outfield additions, look for Jesse Winker to set the table and provide plenty of RBI opportunities for a dangerous row of sluggers.
It appears it’s deja view all over again for Jesse Winker. Before the 2018 season, the Cincinnati Reds braintrust was determined to find ample playing time in the outfield for their left-handed hitting rookie. Of course, the club was trying to find a way to make a sustainable rotation between Winker, Billy Hamilton, Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler.
Fast forward to 2019 and Winker no longer has to worry about losing at bats to Hamilton and Duvall, but now former Los Angeles Dodgers Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, along with the aforementioned Schebler, join a crowded Cincinnati Reds outfield. However, with the evolution of the lead off hitter role in baseball, Jesse Winker is the perfect candidate to fill this capacity.
For years, the conventional wisdom in baseball placed a premium upon having speed at the top of the batting order. Over the past decade, teams have largely abandoned the stolen base and shifted the emphasis to loading the top of the order with high on-base percentage options. This is where Winker can provide his greatest impact.
During his rookie campaign in 2018, Winker slashed .299/.405/.431 with a 125 OPS+. In 35 games hitting lead off, Winker produced an excellent 13.7% walk rate. Granted it’s a small sample size, but if Winker could duplicate that walk rate in 2019, it would place him well within the top 20 in all of baseball. Combine that with a 162 game projection of 17 home runs and the Cincinnati Reds have their best lead off man since Shin-Soo Choo in the 2013 season.
If you remember, Choo reached base over 300 times in his lone season with the Reds. While it would be unfair to expect Winker to reach base at that rate in only his second season, it’s not hard to imagine him posting similar numbers in the future. The 25-year-old should provide plenty of RBI opportunities for sluggers Joey Votto, Eugenio Suárez, Scooter Gennett, Puig, and Kemp.
New Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell has a good problem. Four quality outfielders for three positions. Every machine needs a spark plug to start the engine and for the Reds offense to reach its potential Jesse Winker must be the igniter.