The Cincinnati Reds are at an interesting crossroads regarding their roster construction for the 2023 season. Ranked as the 4th best system by MLB Pipeline, the Reds have a unique combination of both high-floor and high-ceiling prospects, as well as tons of depth, that makes their system strong. A litany of prospects are slated to make their debuts for the Reds in 2023, including two consensus top prospects, Elly De La Cruz and Noelvi Marte, one of which they acquired in the blockbuster Luis Castillo trade at the deadline last season. The focus of this article was also acquired during 2022’s trade deadline, as the Reds received 3B/1B Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 3B Spencer Steer, and LHSP Steve Hajjar from the Minnesota Twins in return for Starting Pitcher Tyler Mahle. Strand was chosen with the Twins’ 4th round pick in the 2021 Amateur Draft, and has made major strides with his power since then, something the Reds’ scouts must think will play well within the smaller confines of Great-American Ballpark.
Getting Into Encarnacion-Strand’s 2022 Minor League Season
The Oklahoma State Alum put up solid numbers during the 2022 Minor League season, with a 162 wRC+ in 330 plate appearances (PAs) for Minnesota’s High-A affiliate (The Cedar Rapids Kernels). Encarnacion-Strand put up a similar wRC+ for Minnesota’s Double-A affiliate (The Wichita Wind Surge), albeit in far fewer PAs. However, his wRC+ took a nearly forty point dip for the Reds’ AA team, the Chattanooga Lookouts, to only 125. Still, I’ll attribute that to him departing from the team that drafted him and adapting to a new organization. That all comes to a 152 wRC+ throughout his season, which is extremely good, and definitely fits his profile given that he hit 32 Home Runs. But taking a deeper dive into his stats will provide an even greater appreciation for his power.
This tweet from Just Baseball Co-Founder Aram Leighton shows how much raw power Encarnacion-Strand can generate with his swing, launching the ball 484 feet in the embedded tweet above. Be prepared for a ball or two to take a bounce into the Ohio River whenever Encarnacion-Strand is at the plate. Fangraphs themselves acknowledge this by grading him with a score of 70 raw power on a 20-80 scale. Digging deeper into some of the rate stats, his Line-Drive%, a good indicator of ability to put bat-on-ball, sat in the low twenties and improved as the year progressed. While Encarnacion-Strand’s 25.5 K% during last year’s season is of some concern, he still had a pretty constant batting average hovering around .300, which gives me a lot of hope that he can still put quality contact on the baseball despite his whiffs. I’m also quite intrigued by next year’s Steamer Projections, where Encarnacion-Strand is projected to have a 118 wRC+ in MLB—highlighted in this Foolish Baseball tweet, where he notes a very interesting statistic. Encarnacion-Strand is ranked with some very fast risers in their respective systems, such as Kyle Manzardo and Matt Mervis, both of which I’m also very high on.
Encarnacion-Strand’s Fit Within the 2023 Reds Roster
Now that I’ve shown you why Encarnacion-Strand is such an interesting and promising prospect, we still have to figure out how he fits into the Reds roster for next season. While I don’t expect him to break camp with the big league club, I imagine he’ll get the call sometime during June/July, barring injuries. Strand Plays both third and first base but doesn’t have particularly good defense at third and will likely be edged out at the big league level by his Twins compatriot, Spencer Steer. First Base is occupied by Reds Hero and future Hall-of-Famer Joey Votto, so he’ll likely not take most of his playing time at the other corner infield spot. So, he’d probably spend the majority of the time at DH and take over at first to give Joey some extra time off his legs. However, Reds General Manager Nick Krall has made it clear that the Reds use of the DH spot will be largely rotational, mostly to get Tyler Stephenson in the lineup. With their additions of two catchers to big league deals in the off-season, former Red Curt Casali, and Cincinnati native Luke Maile, Tyler Stephenson might get more time outside of the catcher position than a lot of people think.
Therefore, I think the best role for Christian Encarnacion-Strand moving into 2023 is to take on a utility role, filling in at third, first, and at DH whenever one of the Reds more proven players needs a day off. A lot of moving parts are likely to be seen going into this Reds season, especially with injury concerns with a large majority of the Reds main lineup (Votto, India, Stephenson, etc.) as well as the large number of prospects that will be making their debuts with the Reds this season, including other infielders, such as Elly De La Cruz, Noelvi Marte, and Matt McLain, who all have similar ETAs to Encarnacion-Strand. The Reds will have a lot to consider with their lineup throughout the summer of 2023, but I know that Christian Encarnacion-Strand will be a part of that equation.