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2020 Marlins Season Preview: Jerar Encarnación

Even in a Marlins farm system stuffed with quality outfielders, Encarnación’s loud bat is impossible to ignore.

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2019 Arizona Fall League Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The annual tradition has returned. Leading up to Opening Day, Fish Stripes will be previewing the 2020 Marlins season, one player at a time. Find every article of the series here.

Where Did He Come From? Outfielder Jerar Encarnación signed with the Marlins as an international amateur free agent in Sept. 2015. He received a $78,000 signing bonus.

2019 Performance

.298 BA | .363 OBP | .478 SLG | 10 HR | 143 wRC+ | 281 PA (Low-A)

.253 BA | .298 OBP | .372 SLG | 6 HR | 98 wRC+ | 272 PA (High-A)

Encarnación was regarded as a fringy prospect entering the year. His intriguing power potential was largely overshadowed by terrible pitch recognition, which resulted in a sky-high swinging strike rate. It didn’t seem realistic to count on his bat carrying him all the way to a regular major league role without significant adjustments.

And then BAM: Encarnación opened up his 2019 season with one of the most incredible months in all of Minor League Baseball.

The 21-year-old slashed .352/.424/.591 in April for the Low-A Clinton LumberKings with five home runs. He cooled off in mid-May, then surged again—both offensively and defensively—to sew up a Midwest League All-Star selection. He was subsequently promoted to High-A Jupiter.

Despite only spending half of his campaign with the LumberKings, Encarnación finished as the club’s leader in outfield assists (13) and tied for the lead in homers (10).

He made a fantastic first impression with Jupiter, crushing a long ball in his Jun. 20 debut, another one the next day and a third one the following week. But his in-game power waned during the final two regular season months. Was he struggling because of the nastier, more experienced pitchers? Or was this simply the manifestation of fatigue for somebody who had only played 115 career MiLB games prior to 2019? Likely some of both.

Given a brief period to recuperate, Encarnación reported to the Arizona Fall League in mid-September for his toughest challenge yet. Surrounded by elite competition from every MLB organization, including 20 prospects who were ranked on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list, he slashed .269/.315/.433 and went deep three times. His 16 RBI were second-most on the Salt River Rafters roster, trailing only AFL MVP Royce Lewis.

His signature moment was a thunderous grand slam in the Championship Game against now-teammate Sterling Sharp:

Low-A, High-A and AFL combined, Encarnación racked up 19 outfield assists but also 20 errors. The last major leaguer to commit 20 outfield errors in a single season? Hall of Famer Chuck Klein in 1936!

To quote Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs, “he’s sometimes a bit of an adventure in the outfield.”

Off The Field

It’s been a hectic year for Encarnación, but he did make a couple trips back to his native Dominican Republic. He says spending quality time with his family whenever possible is the top priority.

His older brother, Anderson, was instrumental in sparking his interest in baseball and teaching him the fundamentals. Anderson tragically died in a motorcycle accident at age 27, unable to witness Jerar’s big breakout season.

From Andre Fernandez of The Athletic:

Encarnación keeps a memory of his brother close, wearing a gold medallion his brother gave him years ago under his jersey during games.

“He used to take care of me, almost like a second father,” Encarnación said. “He cared for how I ate and made sure I had whatever I needed.”

Encarnación was one of 13 Marlins prospects selected to participate in Captain’s Camp earlier this month, a credit to his makeup just as much as his talent.

Follow Jerar Encarnación on Instagram (@la_mirinda27).

2020 Expectations

Encarnación’s career could go in countless different directions from here.

Even with his stock on the rise, the Marlins organization has extraordinary outfield depth. Talent evaluators across the board still see Jesús Sánchez, Monte Harrison, JJ Bleday and Kameron Misner as superior prospects. Those first two should have substantial big league experience by the end of 2020; they’re also the only two legitimate prospects in this farm system who topped Encarnación’s 109 mph max exit velocity last season, according to FanGraphs. Meanwhile, Connor Scott and Víctor Víctor Mesa have a long way to go with their bats, but show the aptitude to patrol center field and add value on the basepaths.

Will the Marlins be able to justify squeezing Encarnación onto their 40-man roster? He is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in December. Or could he be part of a trade package to acquire an established veteran player at another position?

Encarnación somewhat resembles Garrett Cooper in terms of his size, arm strength and impact at the plate. One key question is whether he’s capable of the same defensive versatility. With a temporary surplus of outfielders in Jupiter last summer, Encarnación was deployed at first base for three starts. If he performs adequately there over a larger sample, perhaps the Marlins can count on him as a successor to Cooper (who’ll be entering his 30s next year).

Encarnación should be mashing in the middle of the Double-A Jacksonville lineup for most of the 2020 season.