In the Winker household, there was never any doubt that Jesse would be a professional baseball player.
The 21-year-old outfielder takes time to thank his parents, Joe and Karen, in any conversation that turns to the success he’s enjoyed in his trip through the Minors. Long before Baseball America commended his strike-zone discipline as the Reds’ best, Winker was sharpening his swing with his father in the batting cage behind his family’s Olympia, Fla. home.
Ahead of Father’s Day, Winker reflected on his family’s sacrifices from the first swings in Cayuga Little League in Niagara Falls, N.Y., to his first-round selection in 2012.
“My whole family has come a long way in these three years,” Winker said. “They’ve pushed me really hard through three years of Minor League ball, and my whole life they’ve been in my corner and they’ve pushed me. I’ve always seen myself to be a big leaguer, and that’s always been my dream. They’ve done everything they can to help me achieve that, so back to the credit, I give that all to my family.”
While Jesse tours the Southern League, the rest of the Winker family is situated in Orlando. The family runs The Warehouse, an invitation-only hitting facility founded by 14-year Major League veteran Dante Bichette. The staff includes father Joe, who Jesse describes as a “baseball junkie,” and Joey, 25, one of two older brothers and a former Dodgers prospect with whom Jesse regularly discusses strategy.
“My mom helps down there too, I’ve got to give her credit,” Winker is quick to add. “I think actually both my brothers are throwing in there now or something. It’s a great spot to hit at.”
But a father’s work is never finished. The elder Winker continues to throw batting practice at The Warehouse, including an occasional round with Jesse at the plate.
“He knows a lot about the game,” Winker said. “He’s very good at teaching kids and trying to help them get to the next level or help them accomplish whatever dreams in the game they want.”
The statistics are secondary in a rehab assignment, but that doesn’t mean Marlon Byrd isn’t using his two-day stop in Pensacola as a learning experience.
“I wish I would have come through on that last one,” said Byrd of a game-ending strikeout with the bases loaded. “Mechanics broke down a little bit, timing broke down on the fastball. It’s something to work on [Thursday].”
Byrd finished 1-5 with a three-run home run and a pair of strikeouts, both swinging. His blast to center field punctuated Pensacola’s comeback effort, tying the game in the eighth inning before Mobile rallied to win 5-3.
“The wrist felt fine, that was the big thing,” Byrd said. “I wasn’t sure how it was going to feel. I didn’t know if it was going to bother me, going full speed. You can practice all day long, but game speed is always different. But it felt good on every swing I took.”
As for the 1-1 pitch Byrd sent into Pensacola Bay that electrified a crowd of 4,251, Byrd was measured in his response.
“[BayBears reliever Jake Barrett] left a slider up,” Byrd said. “I’m sure he wanted it down in the zone, try to get me to chase and come back with fastballs. But I put a good swing on it.”
Byrd was involved in three plays in left field, throwing without incident after fielding a ground ball single in the second inning. The other two plays were outs that ended the inning.
Reds manager Bryan Price was optimistic ahead of Wednesday’s game, noting Byrd’s progress is “way better” than expected. He expects Byrd to return to Cincinnati this weekend for a three-game series against the Marlins.
“His broken bone is mending quickly,” Price told MLB.com’s Robert Bondy. “He doesn’t have soreness. He was able to do an awful lot of stuff — baseball activity — when we were on the road. [He’s] swinging the bat, running, throwing, doing all the things he needs to do.”
Byrd will again participate in a full range of activities Thursday night. Southern League All-Star Tim Adleman gets the start for the Wahoos.
Marlon Byrd hits a three-run home run for Pensacola during his rehab assignment.
Reds left fielder Marlon Byrd will begin a rehab assignment Wednesday with Pensacola as the Blue Wahoos close out the first half against Mobile.
Byrd is expected to play two games while the Reds evaluate his status. He will start in left field and bat third in the series opener Wednesday night.
The Reds placed the outfielder on the disabled list on June 3 with a fractured right wrist. He sustained his injury the day before, taking an 81 mph pitch off his wrist in a 5-4 loss to Philadelphia. Though Byrd returned to the outfield the next inning, he later left the game.
“(The rehab) is good news,” Reds manager Bryan Price told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay, who first reported the news. “For all the things we’ve talked about in a negative way in terms of injury, he’s healed quickly.”
In the immediate aftermath of the injury and with several other starters out of commission, Price was bracing for the worst. In the 14 games Byrd has missed, he has used five different players in left field, primarily Skip Schumaker.
“He’s done a lot of really good work without having any setbacks,” Price continued. “I didn’t anticipate having him back as soon as this.”
Byrd, 37, is a Major League veteran of 14 years, making his debut with the Phillies and wearing eight uniforms over a career that spans 1,451 games. After tours with the Nationals, Rangers, Cubs, Red Sox, Mets and Pirates, he returned to Philadelphia and knocked a career-high 25 home runs, which paced the club. He was part of the New Year’s Eve trade with Cincinnati that sent Wahoos starter and Gulf Breeze native Ben Lively to the Phillies organization.
In 47 games with Cincinnati, Byrd is batting .212/.286/.442 with 10 home runs and 25 RBIs. Byrd has an $8 million vesting option for 2016 if he registers 550 plate appearances. If he doesn’t reach the benchmark, it becomes a club option and Byrd would be a free agent.
This is Pensacola’s first Major League rehab assignment since Mat Latos, Devin Mesoraco and Jonathan Broxton spent the 2014 opening series with the Wahoos. Byrd will wear jersey No. 1.
Two Wahoos added to All-Star roster
After a rough start to the season, Robert Stephenson‘s resurgence has culminated in his second straight Southern League All-Star nod.
The Reds’ consensus top prospect was added to the South Division All-Star roster Wednesday afternoon, replacing Mississippi’s Tyrell Jenkins. In 12 starts with Pensacola, Stephenson is 3-6 with a 3.86 ERA. Over a four-game stretch from May 23 to June 9, he allowed five runs, four earned, with nine hits, nine walks and 36 strikeouts in 26.2 innings.
This is the third All-Star honor in Stephenson’s career, including the second of his Southern League tour. At the midway point in 2014, Stephenson was 3-5 with a 3.99 ERA. The right-hander is expected to make his final first-half start on Friday.
Blue Wahoos closer Kyle McMyne was also added to the roster. He replaces Jacksonville’s Sean Donatello, who has been on the Suns’ disabled list since June 8 with right biceps tendinitis.
As the Southern League Relief Pitcher of the Month in May, McMyne pitched to a 0-0 record with five saves and a 0.63 ERA (one earned run in 14.1 innings). In 25 games over 28.1 innings, McMyne is 1-3 with a 3.49 ERA.
The Wahoos will now send five players to the All-Star Game in Montgomery. Stephenson and McMyne join Tim Adleman, Kyle Waldrop and Ryan Wright.
With Keyvius Sampson earning a promotion to Louisville on June 10, Jacob Johnson is the next man up in the Blue Wahoos rotation.
Johnson has made 14 appearances out of the Pensacola bullpen, including a pair of four-inning outings. He’s expected to be a temporary solution with two spot starts before the All-Star break.
“He’s our long man that we’ve been able to stretch out a little bit,” Kelly said. “We don’t have a lot of long men now. Somsen’s gone, now Johnson is in the rotation. We’ll have to get some innings out of those guys in the bullpen.”
Johnson has made 69 starts in 144 career games, including 17 starts in 33 games with High-A Bakersfield in 2013. He has tossed six or more innings 20 times in his career, most recently recording a quality start for the Blaze on September 1, 2013.
It’s possible that Blaine Howell could step into a larger role, though his medical history could limit his appearances.
“You have to be careful with him is because he’s coming off two Tommy Johns,” Kelly said. “So if he goes multiple innings, I’ve got to give him some days. But I would love to get him in a situation where he could be a situational lefty because I think that’s where he’s going to pitch at the higher levels after this. If we could start using him in that role, it really helps us.”
Mejias-Brean returns from DL
Infielder Seth Mejias-Brean returns from the disabled list and hopes to keep his hot streak alive.
After missing six games with right shoulder tendinitis, he’ll return to action Saturday as the Wahoos play a doubleheader in Montgomery. Mejias-Brean is batting .375 (18-48) in his last 15 games since May 18, which leads the Southern League. He also boasts the highest on-base percentage from that date, a .500 clip fueled by a 17-game on-base streak that ended on May 28.
With a 15-game streak of his own, Beau Amaral is chasing the team lead. Amaral is batting .273/.339/.291 since May 22 and holds the third-longest active on-base streak in the Southern League.
In a corresponding move, right-hander Kevin Shackelford was placed on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation.
Cue the well-worn Smash Mouth verse: Three players will represent Pensacola in the Southern League All-Star Game in Montgomery on June 23. Outfielder Kyle Waldrop will try to reprise his performance from the Carolina-California All-Star Game in 2014, where he was named Top Star. He’ll be joined by pitcher Tim Adleman and infielder Ryan Wright, neither of whom are strangers to the title.
Waldrop has been one of Pensacola’s top producers, batting .284 in 59 games with six home runs and 31 RBIs. He flirted with a .300 average during May, reaching .305 on May 19 and hitting over .275 for 30 straight games. In addition to home runs and RBIs, Waldrop leads Pensacola in hits (61), extra-base hits (21), doubles (12) and triples (3) while pacing the team with 17 multi-hit games.
“I don’t know where we’d be without him,” Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly said. “He’s been the mainstay of our offense.”
As other names rose and fell, Waldrop’s bat has been consistent after he shook off first-month rust. Waldrop was batting .190 through his first 13 games, but he hasn’t been held hitless in consecutive nights since April 24. He is the Wahoos’ lone starter, batting sixth and patrolling right field.
Luck hasn’t been on Adleman’s side, but the right-hander enjoyed a strong first half in spite of a 2-6 record. Both wins came in May, during which he posted a 1.05 ERA with four earned runs in 34.1 innings.
“It’s an honor to represent the Wahoos and the Reds in the game,” Adleman said. “You can’t always control results and stuff like that, but you always want to go out there and give your team a chance to win when you throw. To be recognized for throwing well and having some success is pretty cool.”
Adleman’s 2.33 ERA ranks second among South Division pitchers and third in the Southern League. The workhouse of the rotation with a team-high 65.2 innings, Adleman leads the staff with six quality starts. He was previously an All-Star in his rookie season in 2010, representing the Orioles’ Aberdeen IronBirds in the New York-Penn League.
Wright was a late addition, taking the place of Jacksonville’s David Adams. Wright, a Midwest League All-Star with Dayton in 2012, is batting .254 in 53 games. Even during a recent skid in which Wright is batting .105 (4-38) since May 28, he owns one of the lowest strikeout ratios in the Southern League with one whiff per 11.16 plate appearances. Wright ranks third on the Wahoos with 47 hits, including 12 for extra bases.
Wright has been a major contributor in the Wahoos’ double play efforts, factoring into 40 of the team’s league-leading 70 twin killings. Adams was listed as the South Division’s utility infielder, but Wright has made all but one appearance at second base this season.
The original South Division roster as listed on MiLB.com follows below. Players like Wright are added when others are promoted, injured or otherwise unable to play in the All-Star Game. Players on Southern League rosters as of May 31 were eligible in the voting process, which concluded on June 5. All-Stars were chosen by a vote of field managers, radio broadcasters, general managers and print media.
Biloxi leads the way with 10 All-Stars, followed by Jacksonville (7), Mississippi (5), Mobile (4) and Pensacola (3). The South Division team will be coached by the Jacksonville field staff. Starters are noted in italics.
RHP Tim Adleman (PNS)
RHP Aaron Blair (MOB)
RHP Jaye Chapman (BLX)
RHP Sean Donatello (JAX)
RHP Jake Esch (JAX)
RHP Kendry Flores (JAX)
RHP Tyrell Jenkins (MIS)
LHP Hobbs Johnson (BLX)
RHP Damien Magnifico (BLX)
RHP Adam Miller (MOB)
RHP Jorge Reyes (MIS)
RHP Tyler Wagner (BLX)
Chris O’Dowd (MIS)
Sharif Othman (JAX)
3B Zack Cox (JAX)
SS Orlando Arcia (BLX)
2B Brandon Drury (MOB)
1B Nick Ramirez (BLX)
UTIL David Adams (JAX)
Michael Reed (BLX)
Mallex Smith (MIS)
Kyle Waldrop (PNS)
Kyle Wren (BLX)
UTIL Socrates Brito (MOB)
Matt Juengel (JAX)
RHP Jake Brigham (MIS), for Chapman
RHP Jorge Lopez (BLX), for Flores
C Adam Weisenburger (BLX), for O’Dowd
INF Ryan Wright (PNS), for Adams
Jesse Winker isn’t going down without a fight.
“If they’re going to get you out, at least be tough,” Winker said. “At least have some nerve to stand in there and fight when it’s not going your way.”
Winker, MLB.com’s No. 22 prospect, is batting .242 in 48 games with Pensacola. The California League All-Star was batting .312 at this point in 2014, .305 with Dayton in 2013 and .324 in his rookie season in Billings. However, he has hits in 10 of his last 12 games and recorded his first three-hit night with the Wahoos on June 5.
“It just seems like the balls are falling right now,” Winker said. “I’ve had stretches where I’ve been hitting the ball hard and they were just getting caught. As a player, you know they’ll fall, but when they aren’t falling, you’re just kind of wishing, ‘Dang, I wish I hit it five feet to the left or right.’ But it’s baseball, and it’s just the way it goes sometimes.”
Winker credits better pitch selection as a reason for his recent success. Over a six-game hitting streak that was snapped Sunday, Winker hit .375 (9-24) with four doubles, a triple and three RBIs, as well as a .409 clip on balls in play.
“Jesse’s back to his old form,” manager Pat Kelly said. “That’s the Winker that I know. He just looks more aggressive at the plate, and he’s squaring more balls up.”
Winker has one of the most measured approaches in the organization, including the best strike-zone discipline as rated by Baseball America. He ranks second on the Wahoos with 24 walks to 30 strikeouts. The biggest challenge for the Reds’ No. 2 prospect is sticking with that approach as he scuffles against Southern League pitching.
“He’s just a very natural hitter,” Kelly continued. “He can’t have too many swing thoughts. We had a lot of people in town, a lot of people talking to him the last month or so, and I just think he’s a guy you don’t talk mechanics to. See the ball, hit it — when he does that, he’s at his best.”
“I’ve just been sticking to the approach that I have,” Winker seconded. “I’ve kind of been telling you guys the same thing since the first day we talked. I just look into quality ABs and try to help the team win. It’s getting on base, it’s putting together a good AB and it’s battling.”
The outfielder’s turnaround is a bright point in the Wahoos’ recent skid. Pensacola is 3-10 since May 23, but Winker is batting .280 with a .788 OPS since then.
“We’ve had a rough stretch these past eight games with just luck,” Winker said. “We’ve played really good ball as a team. It’s going to fall our way, though. Hopefully we can get rolling and carry it over to the second half. It’s a long year, so we’re just going to keep grinding away and the ball’s going to fall in our favor. We’re a good team and we know how to win, so we’ll figure it out for sure.”
His triple on June 6 was the Wahoos’ only hit of the game, breaking up a no-hit bid started by Jacksonville’s Matt Tomshaw.
Winker’s biggest impact is on the base paths, if not quite at the plate. His on-base percentage, which is 98 ticks above his average at .340, ranks second on the team and 10th among Reds Minor League hitters. In addition to a team-leading 23 runs, he also has four stolen bases, just two thefts below his single-season best.
“I’m just picking a good time to run,” Winker said. “I guess I’m not the slightest of foot when it comes to the base paths, but if you get a good jump and you get a good read on the pitcher, you can steal and anyone can steal. It’s just my job to pick up a sign or pick up something he’s doing tendency-wise, and I can just go off that.”
Somsen goes extra mile to make Triple-A debut
When Pat Kelly makes a pitching change, he takes the ball from his pitcher. But for Louisville-bound Layne Somsen to catch his flight, he had to take something from his manager — the keys to his 2003 Chevy Tahoe.
With Jon Moscot making his Reds debut, Somsen was summoned to start in his place. The news didn’t reach the Wahoos until the team bus rolled into Mobile.
“By the time he got to Mobile, we had to get him on a 6:55 flight out of Pensacola,” Kelly said. “We just turned him around in my Tahoe and he drove home and picked up his stuff at his apartment.”
The trip from Mobile to Pensacola is the second-shortest in the Southern League at 66 miles. That was one of many fortunate turns for Somsen, who had driven similar trucks while growing up in South Dakota. After arriving in Pensacola, a team official took Somsen to the airport and dropped him off without a hitch. Kelly took the bus back to Pensacola, where he reclaimed his car.
“It’s steady,” Kelly said of his SUV. “It’s a little bit bigger, but once you get on the highway, it’s like driving a Cadillac.”
Exactly three years after the Reds drafted him in the fourth round, Jon Moscot has come full circle.
Moscot, the Reds’ No. 14 prospect, made his Major League debut Friday in Cincinnati. He drew the loss against San Diego but ended on a high note, retiring his last seven batters and 11 of the final 12.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous,” Moscot said after the game. “Everyone told me when I got here that I belonged here. But when you get on that mound with the third deck in the stadium, it takes over a little bit.”
Over five innings, Moscot allowed four runs on four hits, including a pair of solo home runs. He also struck out three with three walks.
“I belong here,” Moscot continued. “I think [if] I make my pitches I can get these guys out just like anybody else, and I’m excited to get back out on that mound. I know that I can do it and help this team win ball games.”
Moscot, a Southern League All-Star with Pensacola in 2014, became the 21st player to make a Major League debut after wearing a Blue Wahoos uniform. Other 2015 debuts include Baltimore’s Rey Navarro (April 24), Michael Lorenzen (April 29) and Josh Ravin, who earned the win for the Dodgers on June 2.
3 yrs ago the Reds called on draft day. Tonight I get to live out my dream in front of my family & friends. Words cant describe this feeling
— Jon Moscot (@JonnyMoscot) June 5, 2015
Through nine starts with Triple-A Louisville, Moscot was 7-1 with a 3.15 ERA. He was the first Triple-A pitcher to record seven wins and didn’t drop a decision until May 25. His earned run average ranked eighth among Reds Minor League pitchers, though his numbers were inflated by a tough outing against Toledo in which he surrendered eight runs on 11 hits.
Moscot joins a young Reds rotation which includes Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias and Anthony DeSclafani. Reds general manager Walt Jocketty discussed the team’s need to “[go] younger in the near future” during his Pensacola visit, and skipper Bryan Price seconded the sentiment.
“We are kind of going with our youth movement and see if they’re ready here,” Price told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay. “We’ve seen that with DeSclafani, then Lorenzen, then Iglesias and now Moscot. It’s the way we’ve decided to go to give these guys the opportunity to come and be the rotation.”
In 31 career starts with the Wahoos, Moscot was 9-11 with a 3.14 ERA. He pitched a 7-10 record and 3.13 ERA in Pensacola before an August debut to Louisville.
In a corresponding move, the Reds placed Raisel Iglesias on the disabled list with a strained left oblique. Pedro Villarreal was also recalled from Louisville to take the spot of Jason Marquis, who was designated for assignment. Villarreal, the Wahoos’ 2012 Opening Day starter, has made two appearances for the Reds this season around three stints with the Bats. In eight relief appearances since May 18, he allowed one earned run across 8.1 innings as opponents hit .172 against him.
Buckley returns; Mejias-Brean to DL
Prior to Saturday’s game, Sean Buckley was activated and infielder Seth Mejias-Brean went on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis. Buckley, making his first appearance since May 1, will start in left field and bat fourth in the series opener.
Per manager Pat Kelly, Buckley spent some time at the Reds’ complex in Goodyear and participated in simulated games, splitting time as an outfielder and designated hitter. In 19 games before straining his left oblique, Buckley was batting .268 with one home run and seven RBIs.
Mejias-Brean sat Thursday and drew a walk Friday as a pinch-hitter. Kelly expects his third baseman to be day-to-day and has a wide pool of possible replacements at the hot corner in Mejias-Brean’s absence. Kyle Waldrop should see more time at first base as other outfielders make starts, which allows Ray Chang or Marquez Smith to shift from first base. Juan Perez, who has played at five positions this season with five games at third, is also an option.
In 50 games with Pensacola, Mejias-Brean is batting .263 with one home run and 21 RBIs. Since his last 15 games since May 18, he is batting .375 (18-48) with three doubles and eight RBIs, as well as 10 walks to nine strikeouts.
As Robert Stephenson worked into the eighth inning, he didn’t let the pressure of the moment reach him.
“In those later innings, you start getting anxious or a little bit antsy out there,” Stephenson said after a 3-1 defeat of the Mobile BayBears. “The thing I just keep telling myself is stay calm. If I stay calm, then I’m going to be on top of my pitches and I’m not really going to be trying to overthrow.”
Stephenson, ranked MLB.com’s No. 21 prospect, registered his longest career start and earned the win with eight innings of one-hit ball. He added seven strikeouts to take the Reds Minor League lead with 63.
He tossed seven scoreless innings after the BayBears managed an unearned run in the first. Socrates Brito reached on an infield single, took two bases on a stolen base and throwing error by catcher Cam Maron and scored on Brandon Drury’s groundout.
After Brito’s single, Stephenson retired 23 of his last 24 batters he faced, as well as the final 15. Brito also drew a walk in the fourth, Stephenson’s only free pass of the night. He attributes his improvement to using more of the plate and looking to throw a pitch on the inner or outer third of the dish, not to a specific point in the strike zone.
“I think it’s really cut down the walks,” Stephenson said. “I’m not trying to nitpick when I get in late counts and end up just throwing right on the corners and missing by a couple inches. Instead, I’m just going after guys and letting them get [themselves] out.”
Stephenson doesn’t consider himself a ground ball pitcher, but he was able to miss the BayBears’ barrels. Of the 18 balls Mobile put in play, 11 of them stayed in the infield.
“Robert had a lot of balls put in play early, and that’s why his pitch count was down,” Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly said. “He only had – ‘only’ – had seven strikeouts, so there were more balls put in play, and I thought we played really good defense behind him.”
Stephenson threw 87 pitches over eight innings, including 62 for strikes. Kelly noted that a complete game was possible, but the skipper opted for reliever Kevin Shackelford, who hadn’t pitched in six days.
After tying a career high with 11 strikeouts on May 23, Stephenson spun a gem against Mississippi on May 29, throwing a seven-inning shutout against Mississippi with 10 strikeouts. In six starts and 37.0 innings since May 6, opponents are hitting .146 (18-123) against Stephenson, including six hits in his last 19.2 innings. Thursday’s start sneaked his season average below the Mendoza line to .198.
Stephenson hasn’t allowed an earned run since the first inning of the May 23 match against Jackson. In the 18.2 innings that followed, the Reds’ top prospect has allowed five hits, three walks and 26 strikeouts.
This statistic from the Cincinnati Enquirer’s John Fay sent shock waves through Twitter, and rightfully so.
Pretty frightening stat: #Reds only have 9 qualified hitters in the minors hitting over .250.
— John Fay (@johnfayman) May 29, 2015
Since May 29, the number has climbed to 12 hitters. But in any case, the story is incomplete.
The Bats, Blue Wahoos, Tortugas and Dragons combined for a 64-52 record in May as every Reds affiliate produced a winning month. According to the Minor League division of MLB Advanced Media, that mark was the best among National League teams and the fifth-best cumulative record overall. Win-loss records are secondary behind player development, but developing a winning mindset is invaluable.
“To me, what’s important is teaching these guys how to win,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said during his visit to Pensacola. “As [players] travel up through the Minor Leagues to the Major Leagues, we want them to be ready to perform up there, to win up there. That’s part of the process, teaching them to win or at least be very competitive.”
Modifying Fay’s statistic a bit, 19 hitters produced a .250 average or higher during May. The system’s cumulative batting average was .254, including four players above .300 on the month. This doesn’t include .303 hitter Steve Selsky, who has played the second-most games of any Louisville outfielder but doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify. But from consistent production to late-inning heroics, teams found success in different ways.
Here are the highlights among Reds Minor League affiliates for the month of May.
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