Marlins prospect 'the whole package' in historic debut

Inspired by late brother, Encarnacion shows out with grand slam, outfield assist and stolen base

June 20th, 2022

NEW YORK -- Marlins prospect put together a Major League debut for the ages on Sunday afternoon, and he might just get a new suit out of it. Two nights earlier on the bus ride back from Citi Field, Sandy Alcantara told Encarnacion that if he got a hit in his first game, Alcantara would buy him “anything he wants.”

Encarnacion did one better, knocking the go-ahead grand slam in the Marlins’ 6-2 comeback victory over the Mets. Trailing 1-0 in the seventh, Miami loaded the bases with one out to chase starter Chris Bassitt. Facing a full count from righty Seth Lugo, Encarnacion sent a 93.3 mph sinker on the outside part of the plate over the right-field wall for a 4-1 lead. His first MLB hit came in his third at-bat.

“Just looking to make contact with the ball, pretty much looking for one run,” Encarnacion said via an interpreter. “We wanted to tie the game. That was my approach."

Miami’s No. 20 prospect made a bunch of history in a memorable performance:
• Since at least 1901, Encarnacion is the first NL/AL player to hit a grand slam, steal a base and record an outfield assist in his MLB debut.
• First Dominican-born player to hit a grand slam in his debut.
• Second Marlin to hit a grand slam in his debut, joining Jeremy Hermida (Aug. 31, 2005).
• Ninth Major League player since 2000 whose first hit was a grand slam.

Encarnacion's all-around game shouldn’t come as a surprise. According to MLB Pipeline’s scouting report, Encarnacion fits the right-field profile with some of the best power (50 grade) and arm strength (60 grade) in Miami’s system. Manager Don Mattingly remembers seeing Encarnacion years ago hit the ball with authority to right-center in the instructional league and filing away his name. Mattingly compares him to Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr. because he’s a big guy (6-foot-4, 250-pound frame) whose movements are athletic.

However, Encarnacion didn't land a deal in the 2014 international signing period, and the Marlins were tracking other players in the Dominican Republic when they stumbled upon the Bayaguana native and inked him for $78,000 in September ‘15.

Alcantara, who continued to bolster his All-Star Game bid by tossing eight innings of two-run ball, once stayed overnight at the same house in San Isidro as Encarnacion. Now, he can thank the young slugger for his seventh win of the season.  

“Great day for him,” Alcantara said. “I feel so happy for him, because I saw him before he signed with the Marlins. I think he did a great job today, tried to put the ball in play, and you guys see he hit a grand salami. I think he did a great job.”

Four innings prior to Encarnacion’s game-changing swing, Tomás Nido led off the third by sending a ball to the right-field wall on a hop. Encarnacion played it perfectly, then made a 91.7 mph throw with an easy bounce to Miguel Rojas, who tagged Nido out at second.

Encarnacion's throw was the hardest outfield assist for the Marlins in 2022, and it marked only the third time in franchise history a player recorded one in his MLB debut (Mark Kotsay, July 11, 1997; Jesus Tavarez, May 23, 1994). Encarnacion later stole a base (45 run grade) in the ninth.

“He kind of showed the whole package today from the standpoint of defense," Mattingly said. "He runs pretty good, got the power.”

The 24-year-old Encarnacion waited a while for this moment, which he called the best of his baseball career. He hit the decisive grand slam in the 2019 Arizona Fall League championship game, but his development hit a snag over the next two years. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the ‘20 Minor League season, though the organization added him to the 40-man roster that winter, and injuries (knee, broken finger) limited Encarnacion to just 63 games in ‘21. Just like that, newer outfield prospects like JJ Bleday, Peyton Burdick and Victor Mesa Jr. moved ahead of him in the rankings.

Encarnacion credits his late brother, Anderson, for motivating him during the tough times. Postgame, he was greeted by family and friends, including his first cousin, Randy, and had a video call with others back home.

“[Anderson] always told me I was going to make it to the Major League level, and that was something that helped me out,” Encarnacion said.

The tide began to turn for Encarnacion with a fast start at Double-A Pensacola in 2022, slashing .358/.427/.583 in 31 games before receiving a promotion to Triple-A Jacksonville. At the higher level, he also went deep in his debut, and posted a .779 OPS in 26 games.

Time will tell how long his MLB stint lasts. Jesús Sánchez and Jesús Aguilar have been on the injured list since Friday for undisclosed reasons, while Brian Anderson remains sidelined. Sunday was a chance to give Encarnacion, who was on the taxi squad earlier on the three-city trip before rejoining Jacksonville, a shot. Avisaíl García served as the designated hitter, while Garrett Cooper and Jorge Soler got the day off.

If someone told Encarnacion months ago about his unlikely journey to The Show and his debut, would he believe them?

“To be honest, yes,” Encarnacion said with a smile.