Jesse Winker on Hitting (But Not in Cincinnati)

In June, I talked to Jesse Winker following a 2-for-3 game that included a double and a walk. At the time, a big-league call-up seemed almost imminent. The top outfield prospect in the Cincinnati system was performing well for Triple-A Louisville, and with the Reds in rebuild mode, Great American Ballpark loomed right around the corner.

I wrote up the interview, then decided to hold it until the call-up came. Days later, Winker hurt his wrist and missed the next three-and-a-half weeks. Upon his return, he went 20-for-50 — albeit with limited power — while, 100 miles north, the big-league club continued to swim against the tide.

August came and went, and Winker went nowhere. As Reds fans scratched their heads, he remained in Louisville where he celebrated his 23rd birthday and finished the season with a .303/.397/.394 slash line. Winker went deep just three times in 448 plate appearances — he had 13 long balls last year in Double-A — and walked and struck out an equal number of times (59).

As of today, Winker is still awaiting his first big-league call-up. Three months after it was conducted, the interview won’t wait any longer. Here is what Winker had to say following the June game.

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Winker on his game against the Syracuse Chiefs: “I didn’t know too much about their starter [Paolo Espino]. We did have a scouting report, and I was talking to Hernan Iribarren about how he likes to attack left-handed hitters, but the game kind of dictates itself. With a certain amount of outs and a certain number of guys on base, pitchers are going to attack you a certain way.

“My first two at-bats, I came up with nobody on base, so I was just looking for a good pitch to drive. I was looking for something up in the zone. I know that’s pretty cliched and simple, but it’s how I like to keep it.

“First AB, I got into a 2-0 count and hit a fastball up the middle. My next AB — I think it was an 0-0 changeup — I got another base hit. That one was down the right-field line for a double.

“I didn’t go into those at-bats looking for a specific pitch, outside of wanting to get a fastball up. But Iribarren did tell me that [Espino] likes his changeup, so I kept that in the back of my mind. Right-handed pitchers are often going to go off their heater with a changeup.

“You have to see pitchers, though. Sometimes you’ll be talking to a guy and he’ll say, ‘He’s got a wicked curveball.’ Then you go up to the plate it doesn’t seem all that wicked — it just seems like another curveball. It’s funny how another guy’s opinion of a pitcher’s stuff can differ from your own.

“With a changeup, I want to see if it’s fading or if it’s more like a splitter, straight down dropping. I like to see how a pitch is moving for myself and kind of get my own general scouting report based off of that. That said, having knowledge from one of the guys on the team can be helpful. For instance, will he throw it in any count?

“I had three ABs against Espino, and then I had one against Bryan Harper, a lefty, and walked. It was my second time facing Harper and he’d been kind of coming in on me. He was little bit of two-seam and a heater in.

“I think I had a guy on first when I faced Harper. The first two pitches were in, for balls. One was up and in, and the other was down and in. That put me in a hitter’s count. I got a fastball up and swung through it — I think it was a ball — and then he threw two sliders and walked me. Or maybe it was heater-slider and then he walked me.

“But against him, I just wanted to hit a line drive up the middle. Because he throws that two-seamer, I wanted to stay inside it and hit a line drive. Lefties who pound you in like that usually want you to think pull. When that happens, a lot of times you’ll get around it.

“The wind was kind of howling out to right field, too. That’s a detail worth mentioning. As a left-handed hitter, it’s hard not to go for it when the wind is blowing out that way. But you have to stay within yourself. I didn’t want to get too pull happy, because you want to hit where the ball is thrown. I don’t ever want to go completely against what I know, just because the wind is blowing out, or if the fence is shorter. That’s not my game, anyway. If the ball happens to get up and get out, so be it. If not, hopefully I hit it hard somewhere and it wall fall in.”

On looking forward to hitting in the big leagues: “I try to keep things simple, but at the same time, [having access to detailed scouting reports in the big leagues] is going to be cool. Every step of the way, it’s about figuring out how a specific guy is going to pitch to you. Down here, it’s often your first time facing a guy. Once you’re up there, you’re facing a lot of the same guys year after year. You can go to the video and the reports and see how someone pitched you, say, last July. Then you can fast forward to what happened when he faced you in September. Maybe it was the same way, and maybe he changed some things up. That’s something you want to be aware of.

“When I first get up there, looking at all the data will be part of the learning curve. But what I won’t have is what guys did against me — only what they do against other left-handed hitters — so there won’t be as much for me to focus on. It will more like what Iribarren told me about Espino. I’ll have an idea, but mostly I’ll need to see what he’s got and go from there.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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JDX
6 years ago

His .397 OBP in AAA in 16 points higher than Votto’s OBP in AAA his last season, and Winker was younger. Studying under Votto will be a boon for Winker, I bet.