CES Arrives to Provide the Reds With Another Boost

Christian Encarnacion-Strand gets called up as Cincinnati loses five of six (and first place) to the Brewers.

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top: Yes, it’s been a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week. Actually, it’s been more than a week—the last 10 days have been pretty rough for the ol’ Redlegs, who lost two of three to Milwaukee just before the All-Star break and then were swept by those same Brewers in the first series of the second half. Cincinnati has dropped to second place in the National League Central, and fans all across the tristate area are beginning to panic.

Late on Sunday evening, however, something interesting happened. Cincinnati’s fifth-best prospect (according to MLB Pipeline) and one of the top 100 prospects in baseball, a slugging infielder by the name of Christian Encarnacion-Strand, was scratched from the Triple-A Louisville Bats lineup just minutes before game time. Within moments, speculation on social media went into overdrive: Was Encarnacion-Strand on his way to Cincinnati?

As you probably know by now, of course, the answer was yes. Encarnacion-Strand (known as CES in the parlance of our times) was promoted to the big leagues while infielder Kevin Newman was placed on the 10-day injured list with gastritis (don’t look it up, trust me). CES was in the lineup for Monday night’s game against San Francisco, hitting seventh as the team’s designated hitter.

That’s appropriate, since “hitter” should be CES’s middle name. (Even without a new middle name, Encarnacion-Strand has the longest name in baseball history. He’s already in the record books!) The first time I mentioned him here at the magazine was back in March, when I described him thusly: “Christian Encarnacion-Strand is a 23-year old who could roll out of bed at 2:00 in the morning and hit .300.” That was even before he narrowly missed out on the Reds’ Opening Day roster (thanks primarily to a back injury) after leading the club in spring training with four home runs, hitting .577/.556/1.192 in the process.

But it’s not like he just started hitting this spring. CES was drafted by the Twins in the fourth round of the 2021 draft out of Oklahoma State, where he hit .361/.442/.661 with 15 homers in 56 games in one season for the Cowboys. He’d spent the two prior seasons in junior college at Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona. Over three minor league seasons, including this one, CES has posted a slash line of .322/.386/.604 with 56 homers in 211 games. The dude can mash.

Friend of the column Matt Wilkes had an eye-opening nugget in his analysis of CES’s promotion:

Those numbers aren’t surprising if you’ve followed Encarnacion-Strand’s career. Over the last two seasons, no minor-leaguer—regardless of level—has more extra-base hits than Encarnacion-Strand (111). Among minor-leaguers with at least 500 plate appearances since 2022, he ranks first in slugging percentage (.605), second in OPS (.987), third in wOBA (.424), and sixth in wRC+ (152).

The Reds acquired CES last August as part of the Tyler Mahle trade with Minnesota that also landed Spencer Steer and Steve Hajjar. As an aside, Hajjar was later traded to Cleveland along with Cincinnati’s 2022 second-round pick, Justin Boyd, for Will Benson, who’s currently hitting .287/.392/.484 for the Reds. At some point, we’re going to have to discuss this trade as potentially being one of the best deals in franchise history. I tip my cap in the general direction of Reds General Manager Nick Krall. Kudos, sir.

Anyway, back to CES. At Louisville this year, Encarnacion-Strand started the season late thanks to the aforementioned back injury. But when he returned to the lineup, he began destroying baseballs immediately, because that’s what he does. He blasted seven home runs in his first 10 games, including three in one game. After his first 13 games ever at the Triple-A level, Encarnacion-Strand was hitting .404/.433/.807. He cooled off, so to speak, in the weeks since, but at the time of his promotion CES’s slash line was .331/.405/.637 with 20 homers and 62 RBI in just 67 games.

For what it’s worth, the only knock on Encarnacion-Strand has been his spotty plate discipline. We’ll see if this is indicative of actual improvement, but since late May CES drew 30 walks while striking out only 33 times in 186 plate appearances. If he’s taking walks, there are almost no holes to his offensive game.

Which brings us to defense. Where will CES play? On Monday night, as noted, he was the designated hitter. During his minor league career, he’s played mostly 1B and 3B, with one random game in left field and another in right field. For the Reds, the consensus seems to be that he’s destined to be either a first baseman or a designated hitter in the long term. There aren’t many analysts who believe he’ll be able to stick at third base.

There should be plenty of at-bats available at 1B and DH, however. He’ll be sharing time with Joey Votto at those positions, and Tyler Stephenson will presumably take on a greater share of the catching duties (with consequently less time as the DH). And make no mistake: Encarnacion-Strand isn’t coming to the big leagues to sit on the bench. He’ll get his opportunities. My expectation is that Reds fans will be happy with his bat.

With the Reds offense struggling in recent days, having scored a total of six runs in the five losses to Milwaukee, is Encarnacion-Strand just what the doctor ordered? Well, yes and no. CES will help this offense, no question about it. But this offense is going to be fine. They slumped for a few days. It happens. There are too many good bats in the lineup for this to continue, and you can quote me on that.

The pitching, well, I’m still concerned about that, despite the fact that Cincinnati’s starting pitchers have posted a 2.25 ERA in their last four games against Milwaukee, all Reds’ losses. If the Reds are serious about contending this year, Krall must acquire some pitching at the trade deadline. More on that next week right here in the digital pages of Cincinnati Magazine.

Until then, enjoy Encarnacion-Strand and the rest of these brilliant rookie hitters. They’re not in first place at the moment, but this is still the most entertaining Reds team in years.

Chad Dotson helms Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His newsletter about Cincinnati sports can be found at chaddotson.com. He’s @dotsonc on Twitter.

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