Reds call up their No. 5 prospect Encarnacion-Strand

July 17th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- Newest arrival could have something in common with fellow Reds prospects and friends Matt McLain and Elly De La Cruz. When McLain and De La Cruz received their big league promotions, each provided a boost to the lineup.

Encarnacion-Strand, a corner infielder who was called up Monday from Triple-A Louisville, would like to emulate his teammates.

“Yeah, hopefully," said Encarnacion-Strand, who is ranked as the organization's No. 5 prospect and No. 88 overall by MLB Pipeline. "I think if I play my game -- sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t -- but hopefully I can help and make an impact.”

In its four straight losses to the Brewers entering Monday, Cincinnati was shut out three times, and McLain and De La Cruz, in particular, struggled for the first time as big leaguers. The second-place Reds entered the day trailing the Brewers by two games in the National League Central race.

"I think a lot of the young guys have provided a lot of energy, a lot of spark. I wouldn't say that we're expecting a bump or not a bump," Reds general manager Nick Krall said of Encarnacion-Strand. "I think he was a really good player that we have a chance to put into a good situation."

To make room on the 26-man roster for Encarnacion-Strand, infielder Kevin Newman went on the 10-day injured list with gastritis. 

In Monday's series opener vs. the Giants, the 23-year-old Encarnacion-Strand was the designated hitter and batting seventh. Given No. 33, it was his choice to have just "Encarnacion" stitched over his jersey number rather than the full last name.

"Too long," he said.

In 67 games for Louisville, Encarnacion-Strand batted .331 with a 1.042 OPS, 20 home runs, 21 doubles and 62 RBIs. He was the only player in Triple-A to bat at least .320 with 20 homers this season.

Besides getting him more time to hone his skills defensively at a new position of first base, the organization wanted Encarnacion-Strand to improve his strike-zone discipline and pitch selection. Over his first 18 games and 84 plate appearances, Encarnacion-Strand had one walk with 23 strikeouts, for a 27.3 strikeout-per-plate appearance ratio.

In the 49 games since, he has lowered that percentage to 19.8 percent, with 46 strikeouts over 232 plate appearances.

"He's made adjustments over the last couple of months and he's cut his chase rate from, I think, 49.5 to 38.5 percent, which is huge, getting it down that low in the middle of the season," Krall said. "He's taking better at-bats with that, he's still showing power."

Encarnacion-Strand had a reputation in the Minor Leagues for being able to reach bad pitches and still doing damage.

“I don’t even think about that," he said. "When I’m up there, I say to myself, ‘Can I hit this ball hard, yes or no?’ If I can’t, I best not swing. If I can, get my swing off.”

McLain, who was called up on May 15, was glad to have Encarnacion-Strand on his team again.

“With him hitting in the lineup and you’re on the bases, he’s going to hit you in. It’s a good feeling," McLain said. “If you’re a pitcher, you don’t want to miss, because he’s going to hit it hard.”

The Reds acquired Encarnacion-Strand, Spencer Steer and Minor League pitcher Steve Hajjar from the Twins on Aug. 2, 2022, in exchange for Tyler Mahle. Encarnacion-Strand was in Double-A at the time.

"He's a player that we thought had a chance to be a quality bat in the lineup whether he played first or third [base]," Krall said.

Encarnacion-Strand has spent the most time this season learning and playing first base. During Spring Training and while Joey Votto was on a rehab assignment at Louisville, he received advice on hitting and fielding.

“That dude works real hard, it’s incredible how hard he works actually," Encarnacion-Strand said. "To learn from him at first base and from the hitting standpoint, I’m really thankful for that.

"First base, I got really comfortable. And I think over time, it’s perfect timing [to get promoted], honestly. They kept me down there and I got a lot of work."

Encarnacion-Strand noted he didn't worry about when his promotion might come, but it sure felt meaningful when it finally came Sunday night.

"It’s something I feel like I’ve worked for, for a really long time," he said. "And now I get to play with a really, really good group of guys. Hopefully I can come up and help them win.”