AUGUST 19: Cincinnati manager David Bell told reporters (including Mark Sheldon of MLB.com) this afternoon the team does not expect Winker will be ready to return when first eligible next Thursday. Bell didn’t provide any specifics as to when the Reds do believe Winker can make it back on the field, although he noted that the 28-year-old hasn’t yet begun baseball activities.
AUGUST 16: The Reds have placed outfielder Jesse Winker on the 10-day injured list, per a team announcement. Top infield prospect Jose Barrero has been summoned from Triple-A Louisville to take his spot on the active roster.
Winker, 28 tomorrow, recently missed three games due to this same intercostal discomfort and aggravated the injury upon returning to the lineup yesterday. He exited the game after just three innings.
Even a 10-day absence for Winker would be a notable blow to the Reds, who trail the Padres by two and a half games in the hunt for the second National League Wild Card spot. The All-Star left fielder has long been a quality bat but is in the midst of a breakout 2021 campaign. Through 481 plate appearances, he’s logged a .307/.395/.560 batting line with a career-high 24 home runs, an NL-best 32 doubles, a triple and a stolen base. Winker’s 235 total bases lead the National League.
The Reds are deep in outfield options to help cover Winker’s absence. Aristides Aquino and Shogo Akiyama figure to step up and shoulder the bulk of the extra work, joining Tyler Naquin and Nick Castellanos in the outfield. Even with that depth in place, however, there’s no means of simply replacing Winker’s production, which ranks among the game’s elite. His 152 wRC+ is tied for sixth among qualified hitters.
Cincinnati could have called up rehabbing outfielder Nick Senzel, but the presence of Aquino and Akiyama gives them enough cover in the outfield that they’re comfortable turning to a more concrete answer at another position of need: shortstop. The Reds have been playing utilityman Kyle Farmer there with regularity in recent weeks, but his bat has gone cold over his past 10 games. Barrero, meanwhile, is regarded as one of the game’s top overall prospects, ranking 15th on Baseball America’s midseason Top 100. He’ll allow Farmer to return to a utility role and bounce around the diamond.
Even for those who’d argue that outfield is still a bigger need given Farmer’s play over the past six weeks, the simple fact is that Barrero has outperformed Senzel in Louisville. Senzel is hitting .286/.316/.429 in 10 games since setting out on his rehab assignment, while Barrero has turned in a .303/.378/.532 batting line on the season. Since the calendar flipped to August, he’s posted an excellent .292/.358/.625 slash. Given their status as the top threat to the Padres’ hold on the second Wild Card spot, the Reds are understandably going with the more productive of the two potential replacement options for Winker. Senzel still figures to return before long — barring a setback — but Barrero has earned the spot for now.
This will be the second big league look for Barrero, who went by Jose Garcia after he initially signed but adopted his mother’s last name as a tribute to her after she passed away earlier this season. Barrero went 13-for-67 without an extra-base hit in 68 plate appearances for the Reds during the 2020 shortened season, although some struggles were to be expected after he made the jump from A-ball to the Majors due to the lack of a minor league season last summer. Now, with some additional seasoning under his belt, the Reds will get a better look at a player whom they hope can emerge as their shortstop of the future.
Barrero accrued 92 days of Major League service time during the 2020 season — service time was prorated last year — and would need another 80 days to reach a full year. There are only 49 days left on the 2021 schedule, so he can’t reach that threshold, though if he’s in the big leagues to stay he’ll quite likely qualify as a Super Two player now (assuming the current Super Two and arbitration systems remain in place in the next collective bargaining agreement). As it stands, he’d be controllable via arbitration all the way through the 2027 season.