On the cusp of being named one of the six breakout candidates for 2015, Gabe Encinas enters the season as one of the guys who could take the system to the next level. Back in 2013, Encinas was in the process of breaking out. He started the season throwing gas and controlling it, then he went down with a torn ligament in his elbow and required Tommy John Surgery.
Encinas is now at the magical 18 month mark from the surgery, and with his stuff he could become an impact prospect this season if he is healthy and effective. As with all wildcard prospects, however, this success is in no way a given.
Draft: 6th round of the 2010 draft out of St Paul HS.
Gabe Encinas started his career with the Yankees at the age of 19. He played in the GCL his first year out and pitched pretty poorly. He had a 5.08 ERA in 2011 and had 46 K and 18 BB in 51.1 IP. Despite the poor numbers, the Yankees decided to promote him to Staten Isand in 2012, where he again struggled with a 4.97 ERA in 70 innings. He walked 39 batters and struck out just 48.
At the end of 2012, however, something happened. Encinas had a major uptick in his stuff. He went from throwing 90-93 to 92-96 with the fastball, and his secondary offerings really came along. He had a few great outings at the end of the year, although he had some difficulty harnessing his newfound stuff.
In 2013, the success carried over. He started the season with 35 innings of 0.77 ERA ball, with 31 K in 35 innings and 16 walks. He was learning to control and harness his stuff and was pretty unhittable. That’s when injury struck. He ended up tearing a ligament in his elbow and needing Tommy John Surgery. He missed all of that season and most of 2014.
When he returned in 2014 he wasn’t yet back. His control wasn’t there and the stuff was still coming around. By the end of the season he was showing his old stuff, but still struggling to control it. He had a 5.26 ERA with 36 K in 39.1 IP.
This brings us to Spring Training 2015, which will put Encinas past the magic 18 month full recovery time from Tommy John. If he is ever going to be back, he will be back now. The question becomes whether or not he can get back to what he was doing as a 21 year old. With Tommy John there’s a good chance he will, but he remains a wildcard going forward.
Stuff wise Encinas still does have a few question marks. He got back most of his fastball velocity, which has reached 96 mph even since the surgery. He sits mostly in the 93 range though. Last season he struggled with fastball command, which should improve now that he has eclipsed the 18 month mark. He also throws a two-seamer at the same velocity.
In addition to his fastballs, he had a plus curveball prior to Tommy John Surgery. He still has not brought that all the way back, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t be able to get close to his pre-surgery level soon.
The major hope with Encinas is that he has been able to develop a changeup, as many do, through the process of rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery. If that is the case he could be a real weapon going forward, and will move quickly through the system.
Age is certainly an issue with Encinas, as he is now 23 years old. After this season he will be exposed to the rule 5 draft, and the Yankees will have a decision to make on whether or not to protect him. He will have to move quickly going forward. With a guy like him who has a high velocity fastball and a plus secondary pitch, it will be tempting for the Yankees to move him to the bullpen. If he does he will move even faster, but there’s still a lot of projection left for him as a starter.
Encinas still has a sky high ceiling, but his injury has made it less likely for him to reach it. He still has the stuff to possibly become a number two starter somewhere if he puts it all together. The floor is likely a late inning reliever if he is able to stay on the field. Obviously further injuries could completely derail his career.
Encinas will likely begin the season in High-A Tampa. If he excels there the Yankees will not hesitate to move him up to Double-A quickly to see what he can do against upper level competition.
Encinas is the perfect wildcard candidate for 2015. He is a guy who could add major value to the system with a big year. He’s a guy who has the ability to break out, and if he really dominates could even be a top five prospect by the end of the season. He’s also a guy with a high potential for failure considering all of the uncertainty surrounding his recovery from Tommy John Surgery. He’s a great lottery ticket to have in the system, and if the Yankees get lucky with him Cashman will be laughing all the way to the bank.