Blue Jays 2011: Edwin Encarnacion

9 12 2011

I don’t know how it works for other people, but it takes me a while to get used to rooting for a new Blue Jay. The adjustment period seems to depend on the player. It took about two at-bats for Brett Lawrie to seem like he belonged in a Jays uniform. Yunel Escobar didn’t really seem at home in Toronto until his first full season with the team. Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus aren’t there yet.

(Players probably don’t have this problem – they’re used to seeing people come and go. Being on a baseball team is like making a movie – you spend a lot of time with a small cast, and then everybody leaves.)

For some reason, the adjustment period seemed to be longer for Edwin Encarnacion than for almost anybody else. Fairly or unfairly, I had this picture of EE sitting in one corner of the dugout, apart from the team, sulking. And I wasn’t alone – by 2010, Encarnacion’s reputation had become so tarnished that people assumed that the Jays had sent him down because of his attitude. (Cito Gaston claimed that this was not the case.) People wondered: what does he do? He wasn’t hitting, he wasn’t reaching base, and he certainly wasn’t fielding.

I don’t know exactly when that changed. He started hitting well in the summer, and kept it up. By the fall, when I watched him get a walk-off base hit and, grinning, accept the ritual poundings of his teammates, I had the sense, finally, that he belonged here.

So what happens now? The Jays are thinking about giving him some at-bats in the outfield, which suggests that they are grooming him to be a right-handed version of Eric Hinske – somebody who can handle any of the four corner positions (1B, 3B, LF and RF) in a pinch. However, his best position is obviously DH – while he is tremendously strong, faster than you might think (8 for 10 in steals this year) and possesses a good arm, he lacks gracefulness, which is an essential for third base and an asset anywhere on the field. And he hasn’t necessarily reached his peak as a hitter – he is capable of hitting 30 home runs or more. He is One Of Our Guys now, and I look forward to seeing him attack more baseballs in 2012.

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