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June 12, 1998
Eric Chavez, Mario Encarnacion, and Chris EnochsToday, we take a quick glimpse into the Oakland A's farm system at two more gems from Billy Beane's Amazing Offense Factory, and that rarest of creatures, the A's pitching prospect. Bring your cameras.
Eric Chavez, 3B Born 1978 Age 20
Year Team Lge AB H DB TP HR BB R RBI SB CS Out BA OBA SA EQA 1997 Visalia Cal 512 118 18 0 15 28 46 53 7 4 398 .230 .270 .354 .215 1998 Huntsvil Sou 213 66 11 1 12 21 37 45 5 1 148 .310 .372 .540 .308
In BP 1998, I wrote that if Chavez can learn to walk, he's a monster, or something along those lines. Well, early returns indicate that not only has he learned to walk, he's developed even more power. Chavez is a relatively slick fielder who might be able to play a more demanding defensive position. [Keep in mind that he won't -- but he might be able to.] He's a little bigger than he was last year at Visalia, and his stroke is quick and vicious. He'll be ready for the majors by the All-Star break, which gives Mark Bellhorn about six weeks to hope for both a Blowers injury and a hot streak. Chavez will make up one corner of the coming California triangle of obscenely great third basemen, along with Adrian Beltre and Troy Glaus.
Chavez will probably be batting behind Ben Grieve for years to come, in what appears to be the now hitter-friendly Oakland Coliseum. There are very few limits I'd put on Chavez's ceiling, provided he works hard and stays healthy. If I had to predict a direction, I'd say he's more likely to develop power than average, but there's no reason he can't do both.
Mario Encarnacion, OF Born 1978 Age 20
Year Team Lge AB H DB TP HR BB R RBI SB CS Out BA OBA SA EQA 1996 W Michgn Mid 409 83 9 1 7 35 34 28 12 5 331 .203 .266 .281 .189 1997 Modesto Cal 362 96 10 3 16 34 49 57 8 6 272 .265 .328 .442 .263 1998 Huntsvil Sou 176 45 2 0 9 27 26 28 4 3 134 .256 .355 .420 .267
The A's outfield is going to be mighty crowded pretty soon, and only Ben Grieve is absolutely guaranteed a spot. Encarnacion's another youngster with an improving batting eye, solid power, and the youth to build with. He's been playing centerfield for the Stars, but he's probably going to be a corner outfielder in the bigs. Like Chavez, he's performing well in AA at 20, but Chavez probably has the higher ceiling in terms of production in the majors.
Encarnacion's swing is a little long, and for that reason I think he'll have a period of adjustment as he matures, but there's no reason to think he can be a very good outfielder in the majors, and could arrive as early as this year, if the A's outfielders keep falling like extras in "Platoon." Encarnacion's kind of a tweener, and may face competition from lower levels by the time he's ready to step into a role in Oakland. (Specifically in the form of Nate Haynes, but that's another column.)
Chris Enochs, 1976 Age 22
Year Team Lge IP H ER HR BB K ERA W L H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 1997 So Oregn Nwn 9.3 16 5 0 2 5 4.82 0 1 15.43 0.00 1.93 4.82 1997 Modesto Cal 44.0 58 18 0 11 30 3.68 3 2 11.86 0.00 2.25 6.14 1998 Huntsvil Sou 73.3 74 26 6 18 33 3.19 5 3 9.08 0.74 2.21 4.05
For the A's, this qualifies as a pitching prospect. Enochs has fantastic command, but like other recent products of the Oakland system, he lacks a fastball. The A's have been trying guys like this [albeit worse] for years -- Doug Johns, Steve Wojciechowski, and any other hoped-for Curt Young clone they could run out there. Pitchers like Enochs are not good bets for long-term success. Nonetheless, Enochs has been successful over the past full season, and will get a shot with the A's soon enough. Now that Kurt Abbott's gone, maybe he can induce enough ground balls to be successful. It could happen, but more likely, he'll be another Oakland A's AAAA starter, getting thrown to the wolves every fifth day, and fattening the offensive stats of guys like Jim Thome.
This is nothing against Enochs specifically -- by all accounts, he's a very bright pitcher. Occasionally, a guy like Enochs can be very successful. Most of the time, though, if you don't strike guys out in the minors, you're not going to be successful in the majors.