Big thanks once again to Randy Young who helped out covering the Pensacola Blue Wahoos when they came through Chattanooga. Randy had a chance to sit down and talk with Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect Jesse Winker. Big thanks to Jesse Winker for taking the time to sit down. Here is the interview:
Two rounds of questions–first serious, second have a little fun
What drew you to baseball?
I’ve always loved baseball since I was a little kid. I started playing when I was three back in Niagara Falls, New York. I’ve always loved the sport. I’ve always loved lacing up the cleats and going out every day and competing against pitchers. I’ve always been a big fan of baseball.
Did you play any other sports growing up?
I was a hockey player like I said in Niagara Falls, New York two-thirds of the year is snow so I did play some hockey growing up. I dabbled with football and basketball but those weren’t for me. I moved to Florida when I was seven and it was baseball all the time from there.
One of your strengths is patience at the plate, what type of game plan do you have coming to the plate?
I just try to hunt pitches and hunt the pitch I want to hit in every at bat. If the pitcher is not going to give that to me I try not to cave in and give away at bats, I think that is what ties into my patience. I don’t try to give away one at bat all year. It is a goal I have every year. With that and having a good eye and the umpire obviously being solid as well plays into a patient hitter’s game plan.
You have a brother in pro baseball too, between you two, is it more of a rivalry, more of a friendship, a little of both?
My first two years he was still playing. He just retired this past year. He was a Dodger, funny we are in Chattanooga (Dodgers affiliate). He’s actually here for the series. I’ve always used him as a piece of gathering information, especially when my pro career was starting. He’s your brother so he is always going to be in your corner, he’s always going to be cheering you on. He’s always going to be a good voice to talk to if things aren’t going your way. Both of my brothers, not just the one in pro baseball, actually my whole family I’m very thankful they help me out.
If he was asked who is the better player, who would he say?
No doubt, he would say me. He’s got this thing in his mind where he believes he is the best hitting Winker but he’d say I am the better player. He’s only beaten me in one home run derby our whole life and I’m four years younger than him, so he’s had an advantage with age and strength but I’ve taken the crown in that but he’s got one under his belt so he will tell you about that if you ever get to talk to him.
Did you ever play on the same team?
Never played with him but I grew up watching him and he went to a very good high school, growing up, Bishop Moore, and I got to go hang around those guys and watch him play. He was a very, very good baseball player.
What Major League players, maybe similar to your approach, would you stop what you are doing and watch hit?
Bruce and Votto obviously are one-two just because I try to model my game plan after them. I love watching Mike Trout hit just because he flat out rakes. Josh Hamilton is another good one and Robinson Cano. I try to watch all lefties but when Trout comes on TV he’s that guy that makes you stop and watch.
Are there any Major League hitters out there that you may have modeled your hitting approach after?
Definitely Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. Honestly I think I am a combination of both of them, definitely those two guys. I like Josh Hamilton’s hands. I watch his hands and obviously Cano’s hands too. I just like how every one of them are smooth and quiet at the plate and they go hunt their pitch.
One reader would like to know how excited you would be to potentially play with Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, two of the premier left handed power hitters in the game today?
That would be a dream come true. Just to get to lace up in a pro uniform, that’s my goal and then next to those two guys, what an honor. There’d be a lot for me to learn and getting to learn from those two guys are arguably the two best lefty hitters in the game. That would really help me out. That would be really, really cool.
Have you been to Great American Ballpark?
I have, I went to a few games last year when I was in Dayton and I get to talk to Jay and Joey in Spring Training. They are really good hitters, but even more they are just great people to talk to too. They’re very, very cool guys.
What is the biggest thing you feel you need to work on as a hitter right now?
You’re never as good as what you think, you’re never as bad as what they say. Definitely, you’re never satisfied. If I could work on anything it would be just staying on the lefty curveball a little more. A hanging curveball from a lefty is easy to hit but when you are with two strikes they could go away with the slider or away with the curve and just stay on that and maybe foul it away or take it to left. Sometimes I have the tendency to try to yank that one too. Hitting the other way, especially with two strikes if it is anything just cutting down with two strikes and just taking a couple singles. I’m pretty solid at that but every time with two strikes emphasizing that and driving the ball to left I think that would be a good start.
What do you think is your strongest asset is on a baseball field?
My work ethic. I’ve come a long way. I was labeled early as just a one-sided player, but I think I have come a long way in all aspects of my game. You know, I’ve learned a lot from everybody. You’ve got Darren Bragg, Eric Davis and all of the coaches, you know PK and everyone that has helped me out through my career so far and getting to talk to guys like Joey and Jay. I’ve just picked everything and I’m a sponge so I just think my hard work ethic is probably my best asset.
What is the thing you need to improve most to take the next step to the big leagues?
You know , it’s really everything. I don’t think there is one thing. I just think between offense, defense, base-running, I just think I can polish up everything. I don’t want to be just an average player. My goal is to be an All-Star. My goal is to win World Series. My goal is to, hopefully, one day be in the Hall of Fame. I know I’ve got to take everything to the next level because those guys just aren’t one-sided players. They did everything.
Do you have any particular goals on the defensive side of things?
Just keep getting better. I believe and I know a lot of people believe I’m a good defender and I’ve got a good arm and I take good reads. I might not be the fastest guy on the field but I make up for it with paying attention to hitters and getting good jumps. So I take a lot of pride in that. I think that is something that a lot of people have overlooked but I really, truly believe I am a solid defender. (The criticism) is something I heard a lot when I was younger and you know I kinda took pride in that (defense), you know I wanted to become a better defender. I didn’t want that label of just being an offensive guy. I feel that guys that are labeled just as a defensive guys don’t want that label. I never wanted that and so I’ve really just worked my tail off to do whatever I could to eliminate that.
What are your baseball plans for the upcoming offseason?
Bigger, faster, stronger. Definitely stronger. Because every year, you know even though this year as a full season has been easier than last year, you know I just want to keep getting stronger. You never want your body to break down. I’m not saying that it is breaking down but I’m just saying I feel like if I am going to start sooner this year in the weight room. I kind of waited and this year I’m not. Once I get home I think I’m just going to go right into the weights and just get right back into it.
Fun questions: (THESE CAN APPLY TO BAKERSFIELD or PENSACOLA):
Which teammate is the best singer on the team?
Moose Mattair. There’s not even a close second.
If you were going down a scary dark ally, which teammate would you want to take with you?
Probably Mike Costanzo or (Jeremy) Kivel because I think Kivel is a UFC fighter. A shout out to Jeremy Kivel there.
Which teammate or coach snores the loudest on bus rides?
I had to room with Avain Rachal my first spring camp and I had to go buy earplugs from Walgreens it was so bad.
Which teammate plays cards so well that they just might be cheating?
Ray Chang, they call him the Sensei.
Which teammate is the most competitive, they have to win at everything?
I think it is me. I’ve had that problem since I was a kid, I just had to win, no matter what the game is, I’ve got to win. Growing up with two older brothers we played ping-pong for dishes and for chores so I had to win. That didn’t really transfer well to the other neighborhood kids because when you have to win and it is just a friendly game it didn’t go over so well.
Would the Blue Wahoos make a better basketball team, soccer team, football team or track & field team?
Basketball, I think we have a couple of guys who actually used to play. Mattair, Duran is 6’8”. Yorman says he can shoot. I haven’t see that yet but apparently he can shoot the ball. He’s a good athlete too so I could assume he could dunk as well.
Would you ever volunteer to catch in a game if the Reds desperately needed you to?
If they desperately needed me to I would have to, but that is something I would never look forward to; just watching the beatings they take back there you have a respect for them but that is not for me. (plus they would have to find a left-handed catcher’s mitt in the process).
Who is the best overall athlete on the team?
On this team, probably Lorenzen because you know he can pitch and hit. I heard he was a solid defender back in Cal State Fullerton. So I would say him or probably Yorman too. Yorman is up there.
If you could change one rule about baseball, what would it be?
You know I just had this talk the other day and I had it. A sacrifice fly from second to third that’s basically the same thing as a bunt. It is just one of those things where it just didn’t make sense to me.
Funniest teammate right now?
If you were an agent instead of a ballplayer, which teammate would you want to represent?
Probably Seth Mejias-Brean
Can Delino DeShields still bring it on the basketball court?
Which position player would make the best fill-in pitcher?
I heard Ray Chang has a knuckle-ball. Me, I used to toe the mound back in high school. I’m going to say Ray Chang but me, second.
Consensus favorite fast food place among team members?
Probably either Chick-Fill-A or Chipotle. Does Chipotle count? The guys out in Bakersfield all love In-And-Out though.
Worst minor league promotion you have ever seen?
I want it to be known that I am a big fan of the dizzy bat race. Oh, actually my favorite one of all time was in Dayton and they used to put lemon drops in little babies’ mouths and see like what was the ugliest face that could be made from them. That was hilarious. And they did the baby race, anything with babies is easily first. But the worst one, something that threw me off, I think it was a Thursday in Orem and they had, it wasn’t a beer batter it was a Coca Cola batter because we were in Orem, Utah and that’s a big Mormon community so that just kind of threw me off. You know you are used to the beer batter but that cannot be the worst. The worst, I mean I don’t know. Maybe the running the bases is probably the worst for me because people are trying to warm up. I’ve seen a lot of cool ones like kids running across the outfield towards that roach in Pensacola. That’s pretty hilarious. I saw those monkeys on the German Shepherds in the All-Star game. That was pretty cool. I haven’t really seen any bad ones.