Thus far this offseason, I’ve been in a late-round target mood. Part of that is due to the fact I won’t dive into creating my own player rankings until next month. Therefore, I’m not yet taking an in-depth look at the top players, and I won’t have fantasy analysis for them until I start to dig into their stats. Instead, I’m still combing over leaderboards and adding players to keep an eye on to a growing list. Two more players who recently joined that list are a pair of rookies, Jesse Winker and J.D. Davis. Winker narrowly retained his rookie eligibility with 121 at-bats in 2017, and Davis received a smaller cup of coffee and remains rookie eligible, too. Oddly enough, Davis isn’t even my favorite blocked third base prospect in Houston, Colin Moran fits that bill and was discussed a few weeks ago. Nonetheless, he’s an intriguing player in his own right.
Winker was selected with the 49th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft. Injuries have somewhat slowed his ascension to The Show, but he’s hit at every level. His bat is his carrying tool, but his power has been light for a corner outfielder. He’s never reached the 20-homer plateau in a season, and he hit just 20 homers in 1,413 plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A combined. Shockingly, he popped seven homers in just 137 plate appearances for the Reds in 2017. Suffice to say, it’s unwise to just extrapolate his homer total across a full season.
Even with lackluster power, Winker’s demonstrated above-average offense in the minors slashing .271/.380/.421 with a 14.2% BB% and 17% K% in 618 plate appearances at the Double-A level and a .308/.396/.395 line with a 12.2% BB% and 13.2% K% in 795 plate appearances at the Triple-A level, according to Baseball-Reference. The left-handed hitter’s patience and solid contact skills translated immediately and are much easier to believe in than the power. Having said that, the power he showcased in the Majors could be a sign of him making gains there as well as distancing himself from a wrist injury that could have helped contribute to his low homer output in the upper minors. MLB Pipeline grades his power a pinch below average at 45 on the 20-to-80 scale, and Ted Lekas of 2080 Baseball projected above-average power in a scouting report in late May. Even average power would play well for the Reds, namely at home. Great American Ball Park has a left-handed batter park factor for homers of 120, per StatCorner’s rolling 3-year average.
In order for him to hit more homers, though, he’ll need to hit the ball in the air more frequently. Winker hasn’t posted a FB% north of 35% since 2014. He drove more than half of his batted balls into the ground with the Reds. If you’re looking for a silver lining, Winker’s 44.3% GB% at the Triple-A level in 2017 was his lowest since 2014 (excluding his brief rehab stint in Rookie level ball in 2016). Winker’s ADP in the four industry mock drafts colleague Justin Mason organized and ran in September was 382. 5 with a high of 357 and low of 391. At that cost, even if his power is in the low double-digit range, he can provide value if he hits for average — which he’s done in the minors and did hitting .298 with the Reds — and isn’t a dud in the run production categories. Winker’s elite on-base skills bode well for him hitting in a prominent lineup spot — assuming he beats out Scott Schebler (30 homers in 2017, but just a 100 wRC+ and 1.4 WAR) for a starting job in the outfield. And, while there’s nothing indicating a change to his swing and mechanics is imminent, if there are spring training reports of Winker adding more loft to his swing, he’ll be a fast riser in my rankings.
While power hasn’t been on display throughout Winker’s professional career, the same can’t be said for Davis. The Cal State Fullerton product has immense power that’s resulted in impressive homer outputs including 30 across three levels (Double-A, Triple-A and MLB) in 2017. Davis has slugged 44 homers in 927 plate appearances at the Double-A level across two years (2016-2017), ripped five in 73 plate appearances at the Triple-A level and reached the seats four more times in 68 plate appearances for the Astros. The power was accompanied by an ugly 29.4% K% with the Astros, and he punched out in 28.4% of his plate appearances at the High-A level in 2015 when he hit 26 bombs in 552 plate appearances, but between High-A and his brief time in the Majors, Davis had done a commendable job of cutting down on punch outs (26.5% K% in 2016 at Double-A, 23.2% K% in 2017 at Double-A and 24.7% K% in 2017 at Triple-A). In exactly 1,000 plate appearances in the upper minors, Davis mashed 49 taters with a 8.5% BB%, 25.1% K%, .274/.339/.504 slash and 135 wRC+. He’s not just an all-or-nothing slugger, but boy oh boy can he slug.
Davis only had 43 batted ball events (BBE) with the Astros, per Baseball Savant, but the batted ball numbers are glorious. A total of 540 players had a minimum of 30 BBE in 2017, and Davis ranked tied for 15th in Barrels/PA (8.8), 17th in Percentage of BBE of 95 MPH+ (46.9%) and tied with Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz — good company to keep — for fifth in FB/LD exit velocity (98.5 MPH). Davis rattled off a 39.5% Hard%, but he also had a bloated 60.5% GB%. The high GB% is likely a product of a small sample size, though, as his previous high at any stop was 45.7% in High-A in 2015. Prior to pounding that high percentage of balls into the dirt in The Show, Davis’ GB% had actually gone down at every stop — and while repeating Double-A — up the ladder. The 24-year-old slugger doesn’t have a clear path to playing time presently, but he did add to his versatility playing some first base last year (three games at Double-A, four at Triple-A and two for the Astros). The right-handed hitting corner infielder is also death on southpaws (.913 OPS in High-A in 2015, .954 OPS in Double-A in 2016, 1.2505 OPS in Double-A and 1.534 OPS in Triple-A in 2017, according to MiLB.com, as well as a 150 wRC+ in MLB).
The combination of being able to play both infield corners and punish lefties could allow him to break camp with the Astros if he has a strong spring. His case to open the year in the Bigs could also be aided by Yulieski Gurriel’s impending five-game suspension, too. Of course, the Astros could also simply turn the first base reigns over to Marwin Gonzalez during Gurriel’s absence. Furthermore, even if Davis opens the year with the parent club, the embarrassment of riches Houston boasts in the infield could prompt them to send him back down to Triple-A for more everyday reps as opposed to keeping him on the active roster in a part-time capacity. Davis’ top-shelf pop and bat could also play into the DH mix for the Astros in 2018. He’s not yet even a last-round or dollar pick in most re-draft leagues, but his stock’s up in keeper and dynasty formats, and he has the upside to be re-draft relevant this year if things break right.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.