SIDELINE SCENE: Two local alumni have suited up for Cincinnati this summer and two more drafted by the Reds and are finding early success in the team’s farm system.
It may be a time for high-school baseball fans in West and Southwest Orange County to re-evaluate their allegiances as far as professional baseball is concerned.
Or if you’re like me and have an undying loyalty to a bad team — shout out to the Chicago White Sox — it might at least be time to make room for a new team to follow on a secondary basis.
Whether you knew it or not, if you root for local ballplayers once they move on to college and beyond, you’re probably rooting for the Cincinnati Reds.
Two local alumni — Jesse Winker and Mason Williams — have suited up for Cincinnati’s Big League club this summer, and two more — Rylan Thomas and Michael Byrne — were drafted by the Reds and are finding early success in the team’s farm system.
Time to track down a Mr. Red bobblehead on Amazon.
Winker, a 2012 grad of Olympia High, has had the most success with the franchise and has been there the longest.
Before he was shut down for the season with a shoulder injury that required surgery, the former Titan was a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate — in 281 at-bats this season, he has hit .299 with 43 RBIs and seven home runs.
According to MLB.com, Winker had been battling a lingering pain in his right shoulder for the entire season, and after it was re-aggravated during a game July 23, the team made the decision to address the issue in its totality.
“It’s been happening, and we’ve done everything we can to keep it at bay,” Winker said. “Now it’s time to go in there and fix it. Everyone agrees with this step. It’s time to go do it.”
The unfortunate turn of events for the Olympia alum created an opportunity for an alumnus of one of the Titans’ top rivals: Mason Williams, a former West Orange Warrior.
Drafted by the New York Yankees, with whom he debuted as a Big Leaguer in 2015 and appeared in 25 games, Williams was acquired by the Reds in November.
He had been playing for Cincinnati’s Triple-A franchise in Louisville when the call came July 26 to return to baseball’s top echelon. A day after the call-up, on July 27 against the Philadelphia Phillies, Williams crushed a go-ahead, three-run home run to help elevate his new team to a 6-4 victory.
In his brief time with the Reds, Williams is hitting .279 with four RBIs and four runs scored, making his case to stay with the Big League club.
If it wasn’t enough that two local alumni have suited up for Cincinnati this summer, the Reds drafted a couple promising local prospects for good measure.
Rylan Thomas, a Windermere Prep alum who had started his varsity career at West Orange, had a dynamic college career at UCF, clubbing 13 home runs and driving in 55 RBIs as a sophomore while hitting .343.
Drafted by Cincinnati in the 26th round of this summer’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, Thomas has been strong in his debut professional season with the Greeneville Reds, Cincinnati’s Rookie League affiliate. Thomas is hitting .291 on the season with 19 extra-base hits (10 doubles and nine home runs) and was recognized as the Appalachian League’s Player of the Month for July.
Joining Thomas as a Reds’ selection in this summer’s draft is Michael Byrne, another Olympia alum and currently a pitcher for the Daytona Tortugas — Cincinnati’s Class-A Advanced affiliate in the Florida State League. Byrne, arguably the best closer in college baseball as a pitcher for the Florida Gators, has made 14 appearances as a pro and has an impressive ERA of 1.80.
There are no guarantees in professional baseball; players are traded or option back to the minors every day.
But with Williams being the oldest of the four players mentioned at 26, and Winker just 24, it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario one day with four players from four local schools suiting up for one Big League franchise. In which case, don’t be surprised if you start seeing more Reds jerseys around town here locally — a mere 900 miles away from Great American Ball Park.