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Meet Your New Jays: Edwin Encarnacion

Edwin Elpidio Encarnacion (E^3 to go with B^3) was born in La Romana, Dominican Republic, on January 7, 1983.  He grew up mostly in the mountains of Puerto Rico and was drafted out of a Puerto Rican high school in the 9th round of the 2000 amateur draft, by the Texas Rangers.  Encarnacion, who was traded to the Reds system a year after he was drafted, hit well throughout the minors, reaching AA by age 20 and holding his own there.  He had a very nice season for AA at the age of 21 (.281/.352/.443) and was even better in AAA the following year, where he hit an impressive .314/.388/.548 with 15 home runs and 23 doubles in just 73 games. 

So it was no surprise that Edwin made it to the majors by age 22 (after tearing up AAA Louisville for another half-season), and he performed reasonably well, hitting .232/.308/.436 with 9 home runs and 16 doubles in 234 plate appearances.  The following season, Encarnacion played essentially the entire season in the majors, and hit quite well - to the tune of .276/.359/.473 (.836 OPS), with a .357 wOBA, 15 home runs and 33 doubles.  He had his share of troubles at the hot corner, though, making a league-leading (for a third baseman) 25 errors though showing average range. 

The following season, Edwin started the year slowly and was benched and then demoted at one point but picked up steam as the year went on, finishing with a respectable .794 OPS and .350 wOBA.  He cut down on the errors at third but his range slipped so his fielding remained below average. 

In 2008, Encarnacion started to put things together.  Despite a .267 BABIP (partially due to a low line-drive rate as Edwin started swinging for the fences more), Encarnacion managed a .251/.340/.466 season, hitting 26 home runs and 29 doubles.  Despite the drop in on base (.350 wOBA), his improved walk rate improved and .215 Iso suggested that he was refining his approach and just stepping into his power, which is just what you'd expect from a 25-year old on his way up.  Defense continued to be a problem (he cost the Reds 1 win on defense) and cut into his value but  he was still a 2.1 WAR player.

So the 2009 season came as a bit of an unpleasant surprise, especially with Edwin setting high expectations for himself by saying he intended to focus more on hitting to all fields and not trying to hit it out every at-bat.  Despite a much-improved walk rate caused by Edwin's working counts and not swinging at bad pitches, Edwin had an awful first half  at the plate - not hitting line drives (13.9%, causing a .250 BABIP) and really struggling against right-handed pitching (.661 OPS) when he'd always been rather good against righty pitching in the past (.772 OPS over his career, and that's including this season) and on the road.  So far in 2009, Edwin has only 5 home runs and, perhaps even worse, just 6 doubles.  After an awful start, Encarnacion broke his wrist in late April and missed May and June.  But Edwin in July has been a different hitter - he hit .276/.375/.526 - suggesting that perhaps he's back to his old self. 

Encarnacion's defense will never touch Rolen's, but he is young (26 now) and still has upside.  The Jays control him for another 3 seasons, which is big in that Rolen would have been gone after 2010, with no one in the Jays' minor league system looking like they'll be ready to take over an everyday third base job then.  He has always shown a solid ability to get on base (.346 career wOBA) and his power could be a big help to a team that has really lacked in that department.  Plus his failure to sacrifice bunt has resulted in hilarity.

Welcome to the Jays, Edwin, and best of luck!