No one is having a better start to spring training with the Cincinnati Reds than 23-year-old infield prospect Christian Encarnacion-Strand. He’s played in seven games so far this spring and is hitting .643, slugging 1.143, and he’s struck out just one time in 15 plate appearances.

The Reds 7th rated prospect has done nothing but hit as a professional. Selected in the 4th round out of Oklahoma State after hitting .361/.442/.661 in 2021, the Minnesota Twins sent him to Fort Myers after the draft where he hit .391/.424/.598 in 22 games before the season ended. In 2022 he began his season in High-A Cedar Rapids before being promoted to Double-A Wichita. The Twins then traded him to Cincinnati at the deadline in the deal for Tyler Mahle, and the Reds kept him in Double-A by moving him to Chattanooga. Between those three stops he hit .304/.368/.587.

He’s hit everywhere he’s ever been and he’s showing zero signs of slowing down. Encarnacion-Strand is not on the 40-man roster because he hasn’t needed to be added yet due to the fact that he was drafted in 2021. That could be working against him if you were looking for a reason that Cincinnati would potentially keep him off of the big league roster to start the season. But that hasn’t stopped them in the past, either. Nor have they seemed to play service time games in the last few years, either, instead opting to call up Tyler Stephenson, Jonathan India, Jose Barrero, Nick Lodolo, and Hunter Greene when they were ready to step into the lineup or rotation.

It’s still just March 6th, and there’s only been a handful of games played. But there could be a path for Christian Encarnacion-Strand to make the team. Joey Votto still isn’t playing in games, and there hasn’t even been a report that he’s taken the next step in his rehab to start getting ready to play in games yet. The longer that goes on, the more likely it is that Votto isn’t ready to begin the season. If he’s not ready, that means that first base could be open for at least a little bit to start the year. Encarnacion-Strand has split his time in the minor leagues between third base and first base.

Cincinnati’s got a plan in place to get Tyler Stephenson plenty of time at first base and designated hitter this year. But thanks to that designated hitter spot now being full time in the National League, it opens up more opportunities for the Reds to also get a guy like Encarnacion-Strand on the team and be able to get him regular playing time – even if he does need to play some at third, some at first, and some as the designated hitter in a scenario where everyone can still play somewhat regularly.

55 Responses

  1. old-school

    Reminds me physically of Pete Alonso and with those moon shot home runs.

    I dont know if he is ready or not but he does seem like a credible long term succession plan to Joey votto. He could hit 50 home runs in GABP.

    • DaveCT

      Even though he’s 3 inches shorter and 25 lbs lighter than Alonso, I get the comp. Baded on the eye test, CES looks like he has the same extra large hips, and that’s where I see his light tower power coming from (same as many but still). I like an Edwin Encarnacion comp, too, based on similar size as well as likely migration from 3B to 1B to DH, even though both have/had defensive tools to work with.

      • MuddyCleats

        I still say Edgar Martinez. Like Edgar, CES isn’t all power; he can handle the bat w/ 2 strikes and put the ball in play. There’s a quite confidence about him. Watch how he steps into the box. He’s very relaxed, he has a clear and disciplined approach during the AB, and when he swings, he isn’t jumping out of his shoes to pack a powerful punch. If he continues to excel, I can see him making the team at least until Votto is ready. Likewise, if others continue to display athletic talent/success, I hink the Reds should reconsider the 3 catcher mandate? Or, perhaps they can do w/out a 5 starter early in the season?

      • DaveCT

        Having seen Martinez several times in person, I can see that comp, including the less versatility on defense. CES is a little taller and heavier, and I’d love it if his hit tool took off this year to go with the power. I one time saw Edgar foul off 7-8 consecutive pitches he didn’t want over almost the exact same spot, over the first base roof at Fenway. I know this. Cause I had a box ticket above 1st base

        His last year, at age 41:

        141 games, .263 AVG, 23 2B 0 3B, 12 HR, 63 RBI, 58 BB, 107 K, 406 OBP, .489 SLG, and .895 OPS

  2. SultanofSwaff

    CES keeps Myers in right and Stephenson behind the plate most days. That alone is a strong motivator for me. He’s certainly a much stronger fit than placeholders like Solak/Vosler/Reynolds/Martin/Pinder (I know some are OF, but they’d be in consideration if Myers moved to 1b).

    OF: Myers, Benson, the 3 Fs.
    IF: Steer, Barrero, India, CES, Newman.

    • SultanofSwaff

      …..and I’m not saying give CES the job for good, but rather a long look. We’ll know enough when Votto is ready to make an informed decision on whether CES should stay or be sent back to Louisville.

      • Oldtimer

        Tony Perez took a couple years to be entrenched as 1B starter (he split 1B with Gordy Coleman in 1965 and 1966) then started full-time when he was moved to 3B in 1967 to make room for Lee May.

        In mid 1960s, Reds minor leagues produced three MLB caliber 1B (Perez, May, and Deron Johnson).

    • 2020ball

      This is assuming they carry 14 positions players? Because the two catchers puts your bench to that number.

      • 2020ball

        My roster guess is what you have except fairchild or benson is in AAA. If Senzel is on the team he takes the either of those spots and both are in AAA. Could also see myers at first, no CES and two of the aforementioned three also.

  3. Bdh

    I’d start him in AAA still.

    When Votto returns it wouldn’t be smart to have 3 catchers and 2 1B on the big league club so I’d avoid adding him to the 40 man for now. Stephenson and Myers can handle the spot until Votto returns.

    I’d also like to see CES start taking more walks. Right now he’s swinging at almost everything. At the highest level that won’t have the same success rate

    • DaveCT

      When Votto returns, CES becomes a part timer. I’d rather give him time at AAA, too, including for him to work on his 40 rated hit tool. Give him some time to face those AAA/AAAA pitchers throwing nothing but breaking stuff. Meet that objective and this Death Star will be complete

      • Optimist

        Mostly agree with this, but also with Sultan’s note above – 45-60 games in AAA to work on the BB/K rate would be good, but in any event don’t keep the place-holders/.650 OPS guys on the roster. Go with the 3 fs, Benson, and Myers – looking at a mid-season deal for Myers. Let Joey do what Joey can, and keep the 3 catchers so TySteve is under 100 games behind the plate.

        By the break, if Myers is traded and nobody flops in Louisville, EDLC, McLain and CES should all have 100 MLB PAs, and be set to play 5 days a week to the end of the year. Again, without flops, they should all end the year with 250-350 PAs.

    • Doc

      The guy is hitting .643 and you want more walks. My question is: which of the hits thus far would you prefer to give up in exchange for a walk?

      • Chris

        If he hits .643 all spring, get back to us with that question. The fact is, unless he becomes a bit more patient he will get exploited.

      • Melvin

        haha I understand both sides guys. Hits are actually better than walks as long as he’s swinging at strikes. If that’s the case then his two choices are swing or strikeout looking. If he continues to keep hitting like this then pitchers will eventually try to stay away and make him chase. We’ll see then what kind of an eye he has at the plate when that happens.

  4. David

    Why would we want CES on the roster, when we can have Pinder and Solak? Sometimes, I think I don’t know you people! — David Bell

    Yes, CES is young (Johnny Bench had already won an MVP at his age), but if he is a real talent (as he appears), then so what?
    1st base, DH….get him in the line-up.
    Play the young guys. Let’s get this rebuild on the road!
    Why do the Reds want to keep playing sub-mediocre players? Do they want to lose ALL their fans?
    He is not on the 40 man. Waive Solak. He isn’t doing bupkus this Spring. What is Solak’s ceiling? 0.250 BA, and a .700 OPS?

    • Oldtimer

      In 1959 the Reds traded All-Star 3B Don Hoak to Pirates for slugger Frank Thomas.

      In part, the Reds expected minor league phenom 3B to be starter at 3B soon enough.

      He never panned out for the Reds despite sterling minor league power numbers.

      • Doc

        In 2021 the Reds moved up one J. India to 2B with less than stellar numbers and he won the MVP. Single anecdotal instances can easily be dug up to support any position, but they don’t mean bupkis.

      • Oldtimer

        Disagree. They show it CAN be done. India was ROY. Not MVP yet. Votto last Reds MVP.

        Did you think Rose would make Reds starting 2B in ST 1963?

  5. Greenfield Red

    Most won’t agree with me, but IF they have a bunch of young guys who need at bats at the ML level, and a veteran or two who need to be showcased for the trade deadline (Myers), it is counterproductive to the rebuild to give at bats to JV when or if he returns… if it takes at bats away from the above mentioned group.

    Go ahead, blast away at me, but this is the correct from a rebuild standpoint.

    • LDS

      I agree with you. Too many folks think Votto is going to come storming back. I’m not convinced. Same for Senzel, who should go back to Louisville and find z as swing that works

      • Tom Reeves

        I hope Votto plays so well he earns his job back. But he wouldn’t have that job when he returns from injury if I were manager. And I LOVE Votto – but he simply did not perform last year and this is a team that has to get talent ready for 2024 and beyond.

      • JayTheRed

        I’m not convinced about Senzel or Votto either. Though we have not seen them in any game action yet. I just get a feeling that the Reds have this mindset in their heads that 2023 can’t be the year and so they are willing to take these scrap heap players and go with them.

    • MBS

      I don’t disagree with you @Greenfield. I will say that as excited as I am seeing CES, and McLain’s spring starts, I don’t want to jump the gun on their promotion. I like seeing prospects pushing their way onto the team. Let these kids heat up against AAA, but when they come up play them, because they are the future of the organization.

    • DaveCT

      Yes. Correct from a rebuild standpoint, as with the trades of Farmer, Barnhart, Naquin, Drury, Pham (addition by subtraction), and I’m sure I’m missing someone who was blocking a younger guy. Also combined with selling off high venue assets, Castillo, Mahle, Gray, Geno, Winker (who?).

      Where I may dicker with you — no bashing at all — is in the case of a lifetime Red and Hall of Famer. However, given Joey’s injury and possible continued decline, I think an acceptable approach will be to phase him out gracefully, whether this year or possibly next. Let him tutor the next 1B, DH a lot more, and be an elder statesman. Everybody benefits.

      What I don’t want is CES or whoever sitting 2/3 of the time.

  6. old-school

    Spring training is over in 20 days and Joey votto hasnt played an inning or taken an at bat. Unless we hear something in the next few days, the calendar will run out on him playing march 30. He’s been pretty clear that he wants to be 100% and doesnt want a fluke play or awkward play( plays that you dont practice in rehab) to stress the shoulder and re-injure. It seems like he wants to make his last lap around the track his best effort and if it starts a month or so late, so be it.

    Reds will need an Opening Day first baseman.
    Id still say it will be Will Myers with backfill in the OF.

  7. Roger Garrett

    I said this on a earlier thread but will do it again.Most teams prior to the spring know who makes the big club with very few exceptions but the Reds aren’t most teams.Plenty of roster spots on this team IMO so why not CES or anybody else that has a great spring going north.Lets be real here but is this Joey’s last year?Is Myers here all year and will TySteve be the guy at first full time next year?I don’t know but when CES hits em well you know they go a long way.I am all for giving him a shot cause I can’t think of any reason not to.

  8. CI3J

    My opinion is, assuming you don’t care about things like service clocks, the sooner you can get these young hitters regular playing time in Cincinnati, the better things look for the future. This is doubly true when you have a hitter like CES who seems ready for the challenge.

    The Reds right now have 2, maybe 3 positions locked in for 2024, those being Catcher (Stephenson), 2B (India) and maybe one of the corner OF spots (Fraley). By the end of this season, they will need to have found players for 3B, SS, 1B, CF, and the other corner OF spot. If CES’s bat is ready, then he can take one of those positions, preferably 1B.

    3B and SS have a glut of potential players in Barrero, EDLC, McClain, Steer, and Marte. You have to think at least 2 of them will be ready by the end of the year and those positions will be filled. I’m hoping Benson can live up to his former high ceiling and hold down the CF job. That just leaves a corner OF spot that needs to be filled, either by converting an IF, a trade, or a FA signing in the off season.

    It’s not hard to squint and see a young, exciting team taking shape for 2024. But it’s all predicated on David Bell letting these young, exciting players play and become acclimated to MLB. And of that, I don’t feel very confident.

    • Chris Holbert

      100% on your last paragraph. that is the you, my confidence in DB is not high hopefully he proves us wrong

  9. Kevin H

    I understand service time and that, however if these players are hitting, and fielding at there position then why not. I mean the rays have been this way for years and have won. Not saying reds will win this year, however with Steer, Strand, Cruz playing every day it it can’t hurt.

    I know they wanted to carry 3 catchers, however again why not let the young players play. Not to mention McLain.

    As always though reds bullpen is influx. Time will tell.

  10. JB

    The way CES is coming along , this is it for Votto. Front Office is going young and there is no room for a 40 year old. They are not paying him millions next year. They will give him 7 mil and bid him farewell. If you think differently then you haven’t been watching the last couple of years. They are going young and cheap. They have plenty of talent to play the 8 positions. Infielders will move to the outfield .
    1B- CES
    SS- Barrero
    3B- Marte
    CF- EDLC
    RF- MCLain

    Now it won’t be like that but that will be the talent that they have to pick from. That’s a great problem to have. Young and cheap.

    • David

      My only quibble is that EDLC is the number 1 prospect for the Reds, and he has said quite clearly he WANTS to play Shortstop. I think he does get a real shot at playing there.
      If he cannot be an ML shortstop, then he goes somewhere else. But he will get a shot at playing SS in Cincy.
      I think Barrero will be better this year than last, but that won’t take much, and he does not have the offensive talent that EDLC has. But he may likely be the better fielder.

      • MuddyCleats

        I think Eric Davis needs to sell CF to EDLC. Like CES, a cup of coffee for EDLC at the ML level would do us all some good. Does he want to be worried about where to line up on every pitch, who has the bag on a steal attempt, what bunt Def r we in etc.., or would he rather relax in CF, use his long strides to run down fly balls and concentrate on hitting?? Reds could make it much easier by paying him as a strong hitting SS even though he’s playing CF.

      • JB

        David- that’s why I said it won’t be like this. That core is the foundation. Some of them won’t be playing the positions I placed them at. If you go up to everyone of those players and tell them they can make the final 26 but they are going to have to play different positions. Everyone would sign up for that instead of going to AAA or AA.

      • Melvin

        Put me down in the group that says EDLC to CF.

        “I think Eric Davis needs to sell CF to EDLC”.

        I agree MuddyCleats

    • JayTheRed

      I see Berrero becoming the backup shortstop if he can’t start hitting. There is zero evidence that he can handle MLB pitchers. ELDC should be playing SS first. You don’t want to mess with a player that could be one of the next superstars in baseball.

      • JB

        I honestly think you can flip Them both and Barrero can go to center. I just put Barrero at SS for now because I don’t think EDLC makes the cut this year. They need outfielders and honestly any of those guys could end up being outfielders. I’m just pointing out what a great core of talented players they have coming plus others like Arroyo. It’s exciting to be a Reds fan right now. After all the crying about Krall being terrible, he is looking pretty good in my book.

  11. Bill J

    The Reds shouldn’t let CES start on the ML roster because he’s 23 and hasn’t played much above AA. Baltimore is thinking about having a 19 year old who has only played 12 game at A being on their ML roster

    • MuddyCleats

      I think it can be helpful, if handled correctly. Most kids will hit a wall and begin to struggle and they’ll be sent down, but now they know what’s its like and what they need to work on. Coaches can tell players over and over, but seeing it for themselves might help them make the adjusts sooner??

  12. docproc

    FWIW, I was in Goodyear last week and watched 3 coaches on the back fields working exclusively with CES on playing first base. Looked to me like they were throwing things into gear.

  13. Jim Walker

    To date, CES looks like a hitter and not just a guy who runs into a pitch often enough to hang around.

    Just keep getting him plate appearances. In a week to 10 days just about every PA will be against a pitcher who will either be in MLB this season or at least have a legitimate shot to make the show. The results then will make the decision on CES for 20223.

    • Kevin Patrick

      Ah yes…wisdom! I see this is not your first spring training…

  14. Doc

    Worst thing the FO could do is field a squad of has beens or never weres to start the year. The excitement that will put butts in the seats will come from the youngsters. Fans would tolerate losses while watching the future; they won’t tolerate losses, or wins for that matter, watching people they’ve never heard of, nor ever will have heard of.

  15. Michael B. Green

    CES starts at AA or AAA. If Votto starts on the DL60, he could make the team but I bet CIN adds Richie Martin or someone that could possibly play 3B and allow Steer to help at 1B on occasion.

    I don’t see CIN utilizing the luxury of the 40MR by selecting CES early. Same goes for McClain. Let other people fail and let them tear up AA/AAA to force the issue.

    EDLC is a different story as he is already on the 40MR. However, he’ll likely still start at AA/AAA.

    I’ve whined for years about not ever winning at the MiLB level. If the AA infield is CES, McClain, EDLC and Marte, that’s a juggernaut IF. Some of those guys could slot at AAA though.

    • Optimist

      Marte is at AA, extremely doubtful any of the rest are. Not really anything more for them to show there – EDLC won the organization triple crown, CES won it if you count his Twins stats, and McLain spent the year mastering a power stroke – they all go to Louisville, and perhaps only for a month or two.

      An interesting speculation is if Marte gets an MLB call up in September.

  16. J

    India had only AA atbats and won rookie of the year after a strong spring showing … Why is we always forget the biggest thing in baseball? It’s a game of streaks , highs n lows for mostly every single player at some point and adjustments are key .. Barrero was talked about like EDLC less then 2 years ago and NO ONE , I MEAN NO ONE wants to give the kid a break and let a hammate injury heel fully , it doesn’t take much to hit/miss an mlb curveball and I’m sure a 100% healthy wrist would have been very helpful to the young man !!

    • MBS

      I want to give Barrero a break. If he holds onto SS, not only is that 1 more viable player, but it opens up a lot of interesting scenarios for the Reds.

    • DW

      Actually, there have been several of us on here that want to see Barrero given more opportunities and still have high hopes for him. Many have mentioned his injury possibly being part of the problem. Yes, many here have been hard on him, but there have been plenty that support him being the starting shortstop, with the opportunity to keep or lose the job.

    • BK

      I’m all for Barrero starting the season as starting SS for the Reds. He looks good so far. SS is his spot to lose.

  17. Melvin

    If CES keeps on “tearing the cover off of the ball” I don’t see how the Reds can keep him off of the opening day roster. If he does make it then it would be insane not to play him every day whether it be one position or mostly likely several….as long as he hits. The old saying, “If he you can hit they’ll find a place for you” comes into play here. I don’t care whether it’s 1B, 3B, DH or LF even (I prefer trying him there).

    • JohnnyTV

      I’m all for that but fear Bell will try and find ALL those places for him to play, juggling him from one position to another as he did with Steer last September.

      Messing with his head, messing with his bat.

      Bell might have been the right manager for a 3-84 team but he is not the one to manage the development of this exciting batch of young players the Reds are blessed with right now.

      • Melvin

        I’d like for him to stay at one position. The outfield is the biggest weakness. That’s the main reason I’d like for him to try LF. That could be a permanent spot for him. However if he doesn’t have one regular position but still continues to hit he HAS to be in the lineup every day one way or another.

  18. Christopher Hale

    I don’t see how it could possibly hurt. They need everything they can get.