Manning third base for the Rome Braves until his trade and reassignment to the Delmarva Shorebirds, Jean Carlos Encarnacion has the look of a prototypical power hitter, though one whose development has a considerable way to go.
Signed by the Braves in May 2016 as a free agent, Encarnacion started his pro career in the Dominican Summer League at age eighteen. The first season wasn’t an awful lot to speak of (.668 OPS, 16 RBI, six XBH in 37 games), but his improvement in 2017 was significant.
Splitting time between the GCL and Danville Braves, his batting average jumped to .321, while his OPS rose almost 150 points (.811) as Encarnacion tallied 11 doubles, four triples, and three homers, while driving in 22 runs over a total of 50 games.
This past season, he continued to show signs of developing power while with Low-A Rome (38 XBH in 97 games w/ Rome) until a trade to Baltimore found him in Delmarva, where his offense stalled (.281 BA, .597 OPS in 26 games). Parenthetically, it’s worth noting that his OPS had been hovering above .800 over the previous three months (.803 in May; .826 in June; .809 in July), and 36.5% of his hits this year went for extra bases.
As odd as it sounds, Encarnacion was one of the Orioles’ Postseason All-Star selections, though he posted the majority of his stats for Rome.
At the plate, Encarnacion starts with high hands and in a somewhat forward load position in an upright, open stance. His starts with his weight slightly back and hits off of a stiff front leg. He’s shown good hand speed and his swing is fluid at times, if a bit long at the follow-through.
Like most twenty-year-old minor-leaguers, he struggles against breaking pitches. He can crush mistakes, of course, but much of his power remains untapped. From the beginning of Instructs this year, he appeared to be working from a neutral, slightly-wider stance.
Encarnacion has always struck out a great deal; this year with Rome, his K% reached 26.4% before he was traded to the Orioles, where it rose to 32.7% in 104 PA. With a career BB% at 4% (he walked a career-high 16 times, in 2018, vs. 134 K in 483 PA), he will have to improve his pitch selection as he advances (obviously).
On that subject, Encarnacion is 6’3” and perhaps a hair below 200, at this point, with a smallish frame and broad shoulders; broad enough to span the length of the name on the back of his jersey. He has obviously worked hard at adding core strength, and still has a considerable amount of physical projection remaining.
He has gradually become a fly-ball hitter, maintaining a sub-1.00 ratio this year, and as his bat-to-ball skills improve, he should turn a lot more of those fly-balls (IFFB% 25.7% w/ Rome; 37.9% w/ Delmarva) into doubles and homers.
He sometimes pulls his front shoulder early on his swing, and will roll over outside curves. Again, these can, thus far, be forgiven as growing pains. He has demonstrated power to right-center, and could become an all-fields slugger over time, but appears at the moment to be gap-to-gap with HR power from center to left, primarily.
In the field, Encarnacion is most definitely a work-in-progress sort, and thus a bit of a mystery. Thirty errors in 92 games at third with Rome and a career .898 fielding percentage in 170 games at the hot corner are signs that indicate he may end up moving across the diamond in the future.
On the other hand, he’s also an athletic, fast-twitch kid with an above-average arm. It will take time, if they want him to remain at third, but he has the tools to potentially become a serviceable defender at the position.
So much of Encarnacion’s tool set is about potential; given his age, he’s actually progressing well up to this point. If it all pans out, the Orioles would have an agile, strong-armed third baseman pushing his way up the ranks (currently #14 on MLB Pipeline’s Orioles Top Prospect List), with a 20+ HR/25+ double bat.
Time is on his side, age-wise, and the Orioles aren’t putting a contender on the field, anytime soon. He’s got a good shot at meeting his potential, if the organization takes its time with him.