There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Every year in and around the Futures Game, much is made of the alumni who have played in the exciting exhibition on All-Star Sunday and gone on to bigger and better things. The number of Futures Gamers who have gone on to play in a Major League All-Star Game (you know, the one on Tuesday) is well over 100. This year's All-Star Game Most Valuable Player, Mike Trout, played in both the 2010 and '11 Futures Games.
Our task with this week's Pipeline Perspectives is to discuss who we believe will be the first from the 2014 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game to play in the Major League All-Star Game. But we needed to make it a little more challenging.
Both Jim Callis and I agree that Cubs third-base prospect Kris Bryant is the best answer to the question. So we agreed to pick someone other than Bryant in each of our pieces. Jim took a worthy choice, three-time Futures Gamer Francisco Lindor. I agree that the Indians' top prospect will get a fair share of invites to the Midsummer Classic over the years.
I decided to take a little bit more of a chance, going with a player who has only played 20 games at the Double-A level this year after spending his first 53 in the Class A Advanced California League. But after watching Reds outfield prospect Jesse Winker swing the bat in the Futures Game, I'm convinced that his sweet left-handed swing will get him to Cincinnati sooner rather than later and carry him to All-Star Games fairly quickly thereafter.
Winker has done nothing but hit since the Reds took him 49th overall in the 2012 Draft. He's always been talked about as a pure hitter, with some debate over how much power he'll have. Truthfully, though, the 16 homers Winker hit for Dayton last year were more than Jay Bruce hit at that level. And he has 15 homers this year, as he continues to adjust to the higher level of the Southern League.
Then I watched Winker at the Futures Game, both in batting practice and during the game. Yes, the Rangers' Joey Gallo stole the show in both instances because of his insane power. But Winker was almost equally impressive in how he swung the bat.
Winker doubled the other way in his first at-bat, facing a lefty in Edwin Escobar, no less. He came around to score the first run of the game, in the bottom of the third inning, and tried to go the other way again in his second at-bat, flying out to left. That should tell you something about his approach.
But it was Winker's BP that was even more impressive. No. 86 on the Top 100 and No. 3 on the Reds' Top 20, he has plenty of power. We have him as a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he did hit a few balls out to right field over the course of his time in the cage. But rather than try to muscle up on everything while in the same group as Gallo -- who could blame a 20-year-old for trying? -- Winker stayed within his approach and game plan. He hit balls hard the other way and he hit balls hard off the right-field wall.
Gallo drew "oohs" and "aahs" for the majesty of his moon shots, but Winker's work didn't go unnoticed. One former general manager on the field who was watching said, "Wow, this kid can hit, huh?"
That he can. Winker is going to figure out Double-A before long, and I could see him being a prime candidate for the Arizona Fall League. That experience could be just the catapult he needs to get to the highest level. Bruce was just 21 when he made his big league debut.
There's no reason Winker can't follow suit. The current cadre of left fielders in Cincy shouldn't get in his way. Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, Donald Lutz and Roger Bernadina all have seen time in left. None really pose a threat as a potential regular in the spot. Winker will hit his way into the lineup. Once he does that, it won't take much time for that sweet left-handed swing to land him a spot on an All-Star roster.