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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Better Know a Red #6 - Edwin Encarnacion

In part 6 of our ongoing 25-part series, Better Know a Red, we turn our attention to the Reds' promising young third baseman, Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion, a native of the Dominican Republic, was originally drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 9th round of the 2000 amateur draft out of Manuela Toro prep school in Caguas, Puerto Rico. The Reds acquired him just a year later, at age 18, along with Ruben Mateo, for former pitching prospect Rob Bell...a trade I wasn't a fan of at the time (I still had hopes for Bell), but clearly one that has turned out to be among of the Reds' better deals over the past decade. EdE, as he is affectionately known to the RedsZone faithful, rose quickly, given his young age, through the Reds minor league system. He played in low-A Dayton at age 19 and by 20 he'd advanced to AA-Chattanooga. At 22, after only a half-season in AAA, EdE made his Reds debut. Finally, after a smoking-hot spring, Encarnacion secured a job as the Reds' third baseman of the present and the future.

Additional biographical information can be found in EdE's entry in Red Hot Mama's Human League.

Historical Statistics
2003/CIN-A+ 243 1.33 7/88% 0.387 0.484 0.871 0.295 0.281 18.4
2003/CIN-AA 284 2.00 8/73% 0.331 0.390 0.721 0.246 0.244 2.5
2004/CIN-AA 525 1.49 17/85% 0.352 0.443 0.795 0.269 0.250 7.5
2005/CIN-AAA 330 1.61 7/78% 0.388 0.548 0.936 0.312 0.288 26.2
2005/CIN 234 3.00 3/100% 0.308 0.436 0.744 0.248 0.255 3.8
The thing that stands out to me the most about EdE's numbers is that he improved from '03 to '04, as well as '04 to '05, despite his fairly rapid rise through the different levels. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy to point out that his numbers, while solid, were never really spectacular in AA, but that he really blossomed last year in AAA. This was all after the point that we started to hear a lot about how EdE was The Future at third base. It seems clear to me that the Reds did an excellent job of moving him up the system. He was consistently challenged, but never really overmatched, even in his somewhat rocky rookie debut last year in the big leagues.

As a hitter, EdE is a guy who consistently puts up excellent OBP numbers, which is a real plus for a hitter as young as he is. He does strike out now and then, but in general his walks have made up for that in the minor leagues. Last year, he seemed to rediscover his power stroke, slugging 0.548 and hitting 15 home runs in only 330 plate appearances in AAA. While his overall numbers sagged quite a bit when in the big leagues, his power production remained high, as did his walk rates--very good signs for what we can expect from him this year.

His strikeouts skyrocketed, however, far beyond his K-levels in the minor leagues. Watching him early this year, part of the reason for that may be the lack of a solid two-strike approach. Instead of shortening up his stroke, he seems to use the same swing when down two strikes as when he's up 2 balls, no strikes. A key to his continued development will be to refine his two strike approach and get more balls hit into play.

One aspect that is rarely discussed about EdE is his running game. While not exactly a speedster, Encarnacion has stolen between 10-15 bases a year at a great clip, often over 80% success rate. Like many of his other tools, this gives the Reds an extra weapon. If EdE can get a pitcher's move down, he's very capable of stealing a base in a key situation.

2005 MLB Splits
vs Left 74 1.33 0.338 0.477 0.815 0.271
vs Right 160 4.36 0.294 0.418 0.712 0.237
Home 81 3.00 0.296 0.446 0.742 0.245
Away 153 3.00 0.314 0.431 0.744 0.249
These numbers are based on only a half-season of data, so one should be extremely cautious about reading too much into them. But we can see pretty clearly that EdE really struggled against right-handers last year. His K/BB ratio was an extremely high 4.36, indicating that he was simply overmatched by the better right-handers last year. Even so, he managed to post a mostly-respectable 0.712 OPS and did manage to hit 6 HR's against them, so he did have some success. His performance vs. lefthanders was more productive, though his OBP was still lower than I think we can expect to see in the future. There was almost no difference in his home/away splits.

Pos. Year Level DI's Dewan+- (plays/yr) Dial ZR (runs/yr) Gassko (runs/yr) D*G (runs/yr) Pinto (runs/27ot) Davenport (runs/yr) Bunt (+/-score)
3B 2003 A+ --- --- --- --- --- --- -21 ---
3B 2003 AA --- --- --- --- --- --- -2 ---
3B 2004 AA --- --- --- --- --- --- -8 ---
3B 2005 AAA --- --- --- --- --- --- 8 ---
3B 2005 MLB 478 14 1.4 --- --- 1.699 8 -8.9
The universal consensus these measures of fielding (albeit based on a limited sample size) is that Encarnacion is a plus fielder over at 3B. The kid does make a fair number of throwing errors, but he more than makes up for this with very good range. According to the Fielding Bible, his best performance was moving to his right (toward the line), while he still made an average number of plays to his left. He did struggle fielding bunts last year, but if his Chipper Jones-esque play on Juan Pierre's attempted bunt single in the fifth inning of opening day is any indication, he may be improving in that aspect of his game. Indeed, Clay Davenport's numbers indicate that EdE made a big leap in his overall fielding performance last year. And at only 23 years old, there's every reason to think he will continue to improve. I think he could become a legitimate gold glove candidate a few years from now.

PECOTA75 536 1.90 6/67% 0.360 0.520 0.880 0.292 0.292 38.2
PECOTA 534 2.06 6/75% 0.344 0.485 0.829 0.276 0.277 26.2
PECOTA25 461 2.35 5/71% 0.315 0.423 0.738 0.248 0.250 7.4
ZiPS 529 2.45 5/71% 0.327 0.449 0.776 0.259 --- ---
PECOTA, which is designed with prospect projections in mind, is quite bullish on EdE. Their #1 comparison for Encarnacion this year is Eric Chavez's 2001 season, when Chavez hit 0.288/0.338/0.540/0.878 with 32 HR's and 114 RBI's. I'd take that. :) Even his weighted average PECOTA projection (second row) predicts a pretty solid performance for someone in their first full year of work. Of course, Encarnacion might also disappoint a bit (see PECOTA25), with numbers only slightly improved on his second-half MLB numbers from last year. ZiPS isn't quite as positive, but I don't really know how reliable that projection system is when it comes to players with minimal MLB history. All projections predict a good improvement in his K/BB ratio, though he probably will still strike out a fair bit this year. Look for that figure to steadily improve over the next several years.

I expect EdE to have a good season and a very good career. He really does have the potential to be a right-handed Eric Chavez, hitting 25-30 homers a year while maintaining a 0.350ish OBP. He might not quite get there this season, but should be ready for that level production in 2007...all the while playing good defense in our otherwise defensively-challenged infield. At 23 years old, I'd like to think we might see him at the hot corner for the next 10-12 years. He's one of the real bright spots on our team, and is the hitter that I'm most looking forward to seeing develop this season.

Baseball Cube, The
Baseball Prospectus
Baseball Prospectus '06 Annual
Baseball Reference
Baseball Think Factory
CBS Sportsline
Fan Graphs
Fielding Bible
Hardball Times '06 Annual