Unfortunately, Jesse Winker may have finished the 2019 season with more questions than answers. What grade does the Cincinnati Reds outfielder deserve?
Jesse Winker ended his 2019 campaign the same he ended the 2018 season; on the injured list. Like he did in 2018, the 26-year-old outfielder showed promise, but there has to be concern in the Cincinnati Reds front office about Winker’s inability to stay on the field. What grade does Winker deserve for his performance during the 2019 season?
Winker had a better season in 2019 than some may have you believe. With Yasiel Puig on the team through the first half of the season, Winker took the field on Opening Day in left field and manned that position throughout the majority of his time in lineup. Not known for his defense, it appeared as though Winker really concentrated on that area of his game and showed improvement.
Winker was thought to be the Reds leadoff hitter entering 2019, but a woeful start to the season that saw the left-handed batter go 1-for-24 in his first nine games put the brakes on that very quickly. Scott Schebler was thrust into the leadoff spot and struggled as well. Winker would eventually iron things out and was given ample opportunities to compete for the leadoff spot.
Jesse Winker actually started 42 games leading off for the Reds this season and had a productive year doing it. When he was selected at the top of the order, Winker slashed .303/.387/.559 with 9 home runs and 23 RBIs. Though he also saw time hitting at every other spot throughout the batting order, nowhere did Winker have more success than the leadoff spot.
Winker’s final stat line for the season saw the Buffalo, New York native gather 91 hits in 338 at-bats. Winker slashed .269/.357/.473 with a career-high 16 home runs. Winker also drove in 38 runs and had an OPS+ of 112. In fact, each season that Winker has seen action in the big leagues, his OPS+ is above 100. The talent is there, but Winker struggles to stay healthy.
After a shoulder injury put Winker on the shelf during the second half of the 2018 season, Winker had a few injuries crop up this year as well. Shortly after the All-Star break, Winker exited a game in Colorado after experiencing tightness in his back following a swing. The injury wasn’t serious and Winker was back in the starting lineup two days later.
But, after putting together a decent stretch during the month of August that saw him slash .281/.378/.438 in 13 games, Winker suffered a neck injury that was eventually revealed to be a cervical strain. After a pinch hit appearance against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 18th, we didn’t see Winker take the field again in 2019.
Jesse Winker’s future with the Cincinnati Reds is a bit muddled. Is he a starter or a platoon player? We saw oftentimes throughout 2019, when a left-handed pitcher was on the mound, Winker was nowhere to be seen. Phillip Ervin usually got the start in place of Winker and for good reason. Winker was just 7-for-43 against southpaws this season with a .443 OPS.
Now, I firmly believe that Winker could be more productive against left-handed pitchers if given the opportunity. I feel the same way about Ervin’s ability to hit right-handed hitters. However, given that both these players show promise and their batting splits favor a specific matchup, I have no problem with David Bell putting his players in the best situation to help the team win.
Heading into 2020, Jesse Winker may be staring down a make-it or break-it season. I think Anthony DeSclafani was in a similar spot this past year. With so many young and talented outfielders in the Cincinnati Reds farm system, Winker needs to assert himself this spring and prove that he can stay healthy.
I absolutely love Winker’s enthusiasm. He seems like the ultimate team player and his rah-rah attitude is something that the Reds clubhouse needs. That being said, Winker is in a precarious spot heading into the offseason. Hopefully he gets healthy and showcases his talent during spring training, as I firmly believe that Winker is one of the best offensive talents on the Reds.