Monday, May 14, 2007

Get To Know: Edwin Encarnacion

"Timing is everything," or so they say. The older I get, the more I'm becoming convinced that timing is a fundamental skill that some people have, some people learn, and some people don't. AndI wonder if timing isn't what is hurting the Twins most at third base right now.

A couple of days ago, I talked about possible options at third base, but there is another name out there, one that's damn intriguing, and I missed it because I just didn't know that much about the guy. The sad truth is that when I heard about an "Encarnacion" on the Reds, I thought people were talking about the older outfielder, Juan Encarnacion, who I couldn't believe was still in the league. Turns out, he is, and he just returned, but that isn't the Encarnacion that's intriguing.

Instead, the guy on the Reds is Edwin Encarnacion, a 24-year-old right-handed third baseman with some pop in his bat, about a year's worth of major league experience, who was recently replaced in the Reds lineup. Yes, the same Reds that are run by ex-Twin assistant GM Wayne Krivsky, who has already swung a couple of deals with the Twins and who seems to covet Twins pitchers.

At first blush, that seems like a pretty good fit. It's fun to speculate about upgrading all kinds of positions, but the one place the Twins look like they really will need to upgrade long-term is third base. The Twins will give Jason Kubel every chance to find himself, and Rondell White every chance to find his health, because both of those guys can be middle-of-the-order talents. There are no such delusions about Nick Punto or Jeff Cirillo.

Unfortunatly, Encarnacion is not without hit blemishes, and they're blemishes the Twins might pay more attention to than most. For starters, his defense at third base is cringe inducing. He was also benched earlier this season for not running out a popup. And he hasn't hit a lick this year, which is why he lost his job and in now in AAA.

On the other hand, he's been young for nearly every level he's been in. Last year he hit .276/.359/.473 as a 23-year-old, and it doesn't look like he was protected much from facing right-handed pitchers. He also didn't show a significant split one way or the other. The biggest concern with him is whether he can hit away from Cincinatti's bandbox, as his road numbers were significantly lower.

But probably the thing that would shoot down any deal for Encarnacion in the short term is the timing. A trade for Encarnacion, perhaps for a minor league pitcher or one of the Twins relievers, is exactly the kind of deal that might be made during the offseason. But to make it now reeks of panic.

After all, it isn't like Encarnaion is a sure thing, and it isn't clear that a platoon of Punto and Cirillo couldn't outhit him for this year. That platoon might be possible once White returns from the DL. Plus, Punto also isn't likely to be this bad. Finally, the Twins just committed to Punto for a two-year contract, and targeted and brough in Cirillo this offseason. Isn't it kind of early to reverse course after six weeks, even if the results so far have been putrid?

Six weeks from now, if Encarnacion doesn't work out, Twins Territory will be pining for a different change in direction. And then we'll also be wondering why our organization can't stay the course, and ride out a rough stretch, and stick with a plan.

A player like Encarnacion, if the Twins think he has a future, might be a great addition, especially this offseason. But right now, the timing is wrong. And timing, they tell us, is everything.


by jiminy said...

There are some respects in which the timing is in our favor -- Carnacion's demotion means we would be buying low, compared to his career numbers. And trading now, instead of near deadline, could help our bargaing position because we'd have the option to wait longer, instead of running out of time and painting ourselves in a corner.

Anonymous said...

Edwin Encarnacion is Cincinnati's top hitting prospect. Why in the world would they trade him? What's next ... Get To Know: Alex Gordon? Geez.

David Wintheiser said...

Nice analysis, Geek. Just one nit-pick regarding Punto:

If you presume that Punto's 2006 season is evidence that he'd improved as a player, then yes, you could argue that he won't be this bad all year. On the other hand, given that Punto hit .239/636 in over 400 PAs during 2004, a good portion of those while struggling with injuries, it might be just as accurate to say that an injured Nick Punto is just about as good as we've seen thus far this year.

Of course, the challenge with Punto hasn't been getting healthy, it's been staying healthy...