The Future is Unwritten: Luis Encarnacion
One nugget of Phillies-specific process that makes its way into the posts and comments here at Crashburn once in a while is the club’s traditional modus operandi when it comes to acquiring international talent. Usually, the Phillies give Sal Agostinelli, one of the best international scouting directors in the business, his proverbial prospect allowance and Sal doesn’t spend too much of it in one place. Instead, he spreads the wealth across Latin America to several lesser players whose names won’t be found on Baseball America’s annual list of the top July 2nd talent.
Mining talent in this fashion has been somewhat of a boon for the Phillies. It’s yielded Carlos Ruiz, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, numerous past trade chips, Maikel Franco (who signed for only $100,000), Carlos Tocci and Germany’s mysterious Juslan Kamara just to name a few. Prospects, big league contributors, tradable assets all around. But this past year, the Phillies made a bigger international splash than they’ve made in quite a while when, in August, they signed Dominican 3B prospect Luis Encarnacion (who BA ranked as the #4 overall international prospect for 2013) for $1 million as soon as he turned 16 years old.
I haven’t seen Encarnacion in person so everything you’re getting from me here is based off of video work and opinions and comments I’ve solicited from people in the game. Those two things are almost always supplementing everything else I write, but I figured you should know that I haven’t been able to do any in-person evaluation of Encarnacion as of yet.
Encarnacion is an atypical Phillies prospect on a number of levels. Characteristically, Philadelphia’s system is stocked with tall, wiry athletes who can run and defend and who you hope will fill out and/or learn to hit. Encarnacion is the ying to the yang of the rest of the farm. That starts with the body which, for a sixteen year old, has surprisingly little projection. At 6’2”, 195lbs, Encarnacion is already thick and strong and there just isn’t room for him to get much stronger. This is already a very physical, muscular young man, which leads some to wonder if he’s going to develop any more power than he currently has. Encarnacion already has average raw pop and I’m comfortable projecting it to plus at maturity because I think he will get bigger (even if it’s just a little bit) and become more adept at putting backspin and loft on the baseball.
I think he’s going to hit, too. The hands are explosive in BP, the hips are generating torque, and I’m fine with the bat path which is a little flat but he makes contact in a way that still allows him to drive the ball in the air. The swing isn’t perfect, of course. I want to see if his feet are as smooth in live action as they are at five o’clock and I’d like to see him ditch the occasional back side collapse he exhibits when he tries to add artificial loft to his swing. Guys who sell out for power at the expense of good contact swing and miss too much. I’ve got a present 40 on the bat (which, for a prospect who would’ve been first eligible for his Pennsylvania driver’s license in August is pretty damn good) with a 55 ceiling on it.
That’s all great, but we start running into problems when projecting Encarnacion’s defensive profile. Currently a third baseman, Encarnacion projects to move to either an outfield corner or first base. I haven’t talked to anyone in the game who’s bullish about his chances to stick on the left side of the infield. The actions are bad, the arm is below average and if he gets any bigger the lateral range might be an issue as well.
A move to first base would suppress Encarnacion’s value. Right/Right first base profiles are tough hole to hit your way out of. The good news is that lots of sources (and yours truly) think he has a chance to do it. The thing people seem to be split on is Encarnacion’s ultimate upside. To project him as anything more than a solid-average regular requires one to a) project him to stay at third base, b) project a significant uptick in the raw power or c) project the bat to plus or better. Of those three, I think the last scenario is the most plausible simply because the hit tool is the hardest for evaluators to nail down. And of course, the approach will play a big role and it’s impossible to know what that’s going to be like right now.
I think it’s realistically optimistic to project Encarnacion as a solid average regular, but there’s an insane amount of risk here because of how far away he is from the Majors. What were you doing when you were sixteen? I was awkwardly making out with my future wife in the backseat of her car and trying to learn my lines for Little Shop of Horrors. There’s no way I could have handled professional baseball while simultaneously trying to adapt to a new country, culture and language. Be patient with this one. We might elect two new Presidents before Encarnacion makes it to the show.