The Reds are calling up another of their top prospects, as FanSided’s Robert Murray (via Twitter) reports that Christian Encarnacion-Strand is on his way to the majors. The club may have to make multiple corresponding moves before Monday’s game, as Encarnacion-Strand isn’t yet on the 40-man roster.
A fourth-round pick for the Twins in the 2021 draft, “CES” has done nothing but mash since beginning his pro career, as he has a whopping .322/.386/.604 slash line and 56 homers over 946 career plate appearances in the minors. This includes hitting .331/.405/.637 with 20 home runs over 316 PA at Triple-A Louisville this year, leaving no doubt that the 23-year-old is ready for a bigger challenge.
It seems quite likely that the Reds would’ve called Encarnacion-Strand up earlier if it wasn’t for the fact that the team is already overloaded with quality prospects. The additions of star rookies Elly De La Cruz and Matt McLain have helped spark the Reds back into contention for the NL Central, while Spencer Steer (who made his MLB debut in 2022) has also been a huge contributor.
With the likes of Jake Fraley, Will Benson, and TJ Friedl also producing, the Reds find themselves with an interesting decision to make with Encarnacion-Strand’s position. CES has played almost all of his career as a corner infielder, with only a pair of games in the corner outfield spots. But, De La Cruz has been mostly playing third base since his promotion, and longtime star Joey Votto is still in the regular first base/DH mix since his return from the 60-day injured list. It’s say to predict Encarnacion-Strand as the eventual successor to Votto, but the veteran has been on fire at the plate.
It’s the proverbial “good problem to have” for manager David Bell and Cincinnati’s front office, and it could be the issue may solve itself in the form of an injury or a slump. Or, the Reds might simply rotate everyone through the lineup and make copious use of pinch-hitting opportunities or late-game substitutions in order to keep everyone (Votto in particular) fresh. With the deadline approaching, it also isn’t out of the question that the Reds could create space by trading one of their young prospects in a headline deal for a controllable, frontline starting pitcher. At the very least, it seems like Cincinnati will look to move veterans like Kevin Newman or Nick Senzel, whose playing time has been drastically reduced by the youth movement.
Encarnacion-Strand has made such a rapid rise up the minor league ladder that none of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB Pipeline, or The Athletic’s Keith Law had the infielder on their preseason top-100 lists. He currently checks in 83rd on BA’s ranking and 88th on Pipeline’s ranking, with both outlets praising his natural power and his arm strength. Questions about CES’ contact hitting seem to have been addressed in his Triple-A season, as his 10.4% walk rate is easily the highest of his three pro seasons, and he has also reduced his strikeout rate to 21.8%. A slightly more patient version of Encarnacion-Strand is a scary concept for pitchers, given his power and ability to hit to the opposite field.
Cincinnati brought Encarnacion-Strand and Steer into the organization less than a year ago, acquired along with southpaw prospect Steve Hajjar in the trade that sent Tyler Mahle to the Twins at the deadline. Since the Reds flipped Hajjar to the Guardians as the player to be named later to acquire Benson during the offseason, the Mahle trade has very quickly become one of the most productive swaps in recent team history. For Minnesota, the trade is already infamous, as Mahle battled injuries and made only nine starts for the Twins before undergoing Tommy John surgery in May.