Cycle AND a 3-homer game? Triple-A Louisville brings the lumber

Reds' Nos. 5 and 6 prospects combine for seven hits, nine RBIs on double milestone day

May 5th, 2023

It’s not often that the heart of a Triple-A lineup can at once encapsulate the promise and possibility of what’s to come at the big league level. But most lineups aren’t that of the Louisville Bats.

Thursday marked a banner night for Cincinnati's Triple-A affiliate. For the second time in his career, No. 5 Reds prospect Matt McLain hit for the cycle. Hitting behind him in the lineup was Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who demolished a trio of homers, giving him seven in just 10 games with the Bats -- his first taste of the Triple-A level.

The theatrics started early in the Bats' 12-10 win over Omaha, with McLain getting his triple out of the way quickly in the first inning. Encarnacion-Strand was up next, and the slugging corner infielder plated McLain with his first two-run shot to left that traveled 423 feet and came off the bat at 100.5 mph -- pedestrian by the metrics of his second wallop.

On a pitch that was out of the strike zone, Encarnacion-Strand, the Reds’ No. 6 prospect, pole-vaulted Louisville ahead in the third with a towering 452-foot blast that banged off the scoreboard way beyond the left-center-field wall. McLain got to jog home again after reaching on a double. He got into the homer act himself in his next at-bat in the fifth.

With the most difficult legs of the cycle already checked off, McLain stepped to the dish with the bases loaded in the sixth against a fellow 2022 Arizona Fall League participant in Royals prospect Jonah Dipoto. As was the case in all of his cycle-relevant production, McLain worked the plate appearance to at least a third pitch and attacked, slashing a two-RBI single.

With one milestone down, why not go for two? McLain was thwarted in his efforts for his first five-hit game to lead off the ninth, leaving Encarnacion-Strand in the unfamiliar position of stepping to the dish with the bases cleared. That proved no obstacle, as his third homer of the night was sizzled at 106.8 mph and had a 42-degree launch angle, a mark which just seven homers hit in the Majors this season have exceeded.

The McLain/Encarnacion-Strand tandem combined for seven hits and nine RBIs, continuing a theme that began to develop last week during an offensive tour-de-force that featured 34 combined runs, 42 hits and nine homers between Louisville and Triple-A Iowa, the Cubs’ affiliate. Hitting ahead of the duo on both occasions has been Elly De La Cruz, the Reds’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 8 prospect in the Majors, who added a multihit night Thursday in his own right.

The Cactus League was Encarnacion-Strand’s playground: he went 15-for-26 (.577) with four homers, 13 RBIs and 31 total bases in just 26 at-bats. Despite the offensive deluge in Spring Training, the 23-year-old, who had yet to play at Triple-A, didn’t break camp with the club. A back injury sidelined him to begin the year, but he has shown no ill effects since returning to play, boasting a .432 average and 1.423 OPS.

McLain also hadn't reached Triple-A prior to 2023 despite a track record of success. Taken with the 17th overall pick by Cincinnati in '21 out of UCLA, McLain has soared up the organizational ladder and hammered the ball with purpose this season for Louisville (.324/.450/.638). He has three four-hit games to his ledger as a pro -- two of which have resulted in him hitting for the cycle.

If Louisville’s power potential wasn’t captivating enough, Thursday also featured a two-homer game for No. 2 Reds prospect Noelvi Marte, who did so for Double-A Chattanooga. The prized return jewel in the Luis Castillo deal with Seattle from last year, Marte has begun to find his footing at the level with his first multihomer game of the season.

The eventual defensive homes of all this offensive talent are still to be determined. But as the Reds have noted -- having all this skill at their disposal is a good problem to have.