The Cincinnati Reds continue to tap into their immensely talented farm system, as the team called up its fifth-ranked prospect, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, on Monday.
MLB Pipeline's No. 88 overall prospect is the latest top product to matriculate from Triple-A Louisville to a quickly competitive NL Central team.
The 23-year-old slugger's promotion will mark a reunion of sorts as he joins Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain and Andrew Abbott in making his debut as a Top 100 prospect.
Although he doesn't quite have De La Cruz's prodigious power, Encarnacion-Strand isn't too far behind in that department. He's flexed that strength all year in the International League, where he is tied for fifth with 20 home runs while compiling a slash line of .331/.405/.637.
Encarnacion-Strand has done nothing but produce in the nearly 12 months since Cincinnati acquired him from Minnesota in the Tyler Mahle deal. He knocked seven homers in 35 games with Double-A Chattanooga last year and is tied for sixth in the International League this year with 92 hits while pacing the circuit with 177 total bases. What's even more impressive about the latter is that he's done so despite not making his 2023 debut until April 23 because of a slight herniation in his back.
Encarnacion-Strand will immediately add thump to a Reds lineup that can use it. Despite playing half their games in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the Majors, the Reds rank just 22nd with 98 homers on the year. It's worth noting, though, that 41 of those long balls have come in the past 30 games, which is second only to the Braves during that span.
Where the slugger fits on the field is another question. Outside of one game apiece in right and left field, Encarnacion-Strand has split his time between first base, third base and designated hitter. Those are fairly crowded positions in Cincinnati, although the Reds wouldn't be calling him up without regular at-bats in store.
De La Cruz (117 wRC+) has largely manned the hot corner lately when he isn't spelling McLain (125) at shortstop. Joey Votto (142) has been starting nearly every day at first, with fellow slugging rookie Spencer Steer (120) filling in as needed at both infield corners. Expect manager David Bell to continue to move players around to fit CES in the lineup at those three positions.
Encarnacion-Strand is an adequate defender in his own right, earning a 60 grade with his arm and a 45 grade for his glove, although it's his bat that will get him in the lineup. And he doesn't need to be a platoon bat to feast on lefties -- he's been blistering all pitchers this year, with more power against lefties (.302/.376/.688) and more contact against righties (.346/.420/.610) in limited sample sizes over 67 games this season.
The California native's power display is not totally surprising after he launched 32 homers last year between High-A and Double-A in the Twins and Reds organizations. But his improvement in plate discipline has been just as important. After running a 25.5 percent strikeout rate and 7.4 percent walk rate last year, Encarnacion-Strand has a 21.8 percent K rate and 10.4 percent BB rate in 2023 against tougher competition.
Ever since the Reds acquired him last year, Encarnacion-Strand has appeared to be Cincinnati's first baseman of the future. With Votto still in the fold and the Reds on the brink of a playoff spot, they appear ready just to have him as their slugger of the present.