With the night that Jesse Winker put together last night it got me to really wondering how he compared to other somewhat recent Cincinnati Reds top hitting prospects. I looked back at the Baseball America Top 100 lists going back to 2008 and picked out Reds hitters who were in the Top 50 of their rankings, with the exception of Billy Hamilton. I chose to leave off Hamilton because he simply is a very different kind of hitter than the rest of the group. I also had to leave out Todd Frazier and Yonder Alonso, as they were still in college at the same stage. That leaves us with Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Devin Mesoraco as guys to compare Winker to.
Right now, Jesse Winker is hitting .318/.423/.576 for the Bakersfield Blaze as a 20-year-old. If you have been around long enough though, and reading this site of course, you know that I don’t really like comparing the numbers straight up, but prefer to look at the underlying statistics that correlate much better with future production. What are those stats? They would be walk rate, strikeout rate and isolated power. For a quick explanation why those are important, it’s simple: Walk and strikeout rates show a players understanding of the strikezone as well as bat-on-ball skills, and isolated power gives us an idea of his true power output. Generally speaking, those things carry forward well, much better than a slash line does because it can be effected by a funny batting average on balls in play, which will relate directly to average, and thus alter on-base and slugging percentages.
To make the comparison, we need to have some context on all of the players. Today we are looking only at the age 20 season for these players. Both Winker and Jay Bruce were in Advanced-A at age 20, but Bruce also spent time in Double-A and nearly half of a season in Triple-A. Joey Votto spent most of his time at that age in Low-A with a late call up to Advanced-A. Devin Mesoraco spent his entire age 20 season in Low-A. For more context, Dayton, where the Low-A team is at, plays out as a neutral hitting environment overall, Bakersfield where Winker plays is very, very hitter friendly and Jay Bruce played his age 20 season over three levels that as a whole played out as rather pitching friendly. With all of that out of the way, let’s jump into the raw numbers.
Walk and Strikeout Rates
Jesse Winker stands out on this chart. His strikeout rate is the lowest among the group, and rather significantly better than that of both Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. His walk rate is just a fraction lower than that of Joey Votto at the same age as well, while nearly doubling that of Bruce and and more than doubling the walk rate of Devin Mesoraco. It’s worth noting again that Winker was facing tougher pitching than Votto or Mesoraco, but that Bruce was facing better pitching than all three. In terms of strikeout-to-walk ratio, Winker has an easy lead on everyone here.
In this comparison Winker finds himself just behind Bruce, but Bruce was playing in pitcher friendly environments all season long while Winker has been playing in hitter friendly environments. With that said, I think that speaks more to just how much power Bruce had at the time, especially considering he spent half of his season in Double-A and Triple-A. Winker is outpacing the power for both Joey Votto and Devin Mesoraco, who played in more neutral hitting environments, but also at a level lower (or in Votto’s case, mostly at a level lower).
Obviously this can work with hindsight on three of the four guys here, since we know what happened with everyone but Winker following their age 20 season, but I think we can argue that Jesse Winker, at least from a hitting only standpoint, can be argued to be the best hitting prospect among this group. His plate discipline is the best at this point in the game. His power is second to only Bruce. From a pure numbers standpoint, at this stage he is a better version of a 20-year-old Joey Votto. That isn’t to say he will turn into Joey Votto and be an MVP one day, but he is showing all of the right things in the minor leagues to be an elite level hitter. He draws walks at a very high rate. He makes contact at a very good rate for a power hitter. He hits for big time power. Offensively, there isn’t much else you can ask for a guy to do.