Who is Juan Daniel Encarnacion? Red Sox pitching prospect posted 2.96 ERA in Florida Complex League in 2021, is projected to begin 2022 season at Low-A Salem

While Wilkelman Gonzalez may have stood out above the rest in the Florida Complex League last summer, the year fellow Red Sox pitching prospect Juan Daniel Encarnacion put together in 2021 should not be forgotten about, either.

Encarnacion, who turns 21 in March, made 12 appearances — 10 of which were starts — for the FCL Red Sox after being assigned to the rookie-level affiliate out of minor-league spring training.

In those dozen outings centered around the Fort Myers-area, the young right-hander posted a 2.96 ERA and 4.03 xFIP to go along with 56 strikeouts to 11 walks over 45 2/3 total innings of work.

Among the 15 pitchers who accrued at least 40 innings in the Florida Complex League last year, Encarnacion ranked fourth in innings pitched, first in strikeouts, first in strikeouts per nine innings (11.04), fourth in walks per nine innings (2.17), first in strikeout rate (30.3%), fourth in walk rate (5.9%), fourth in batting average against (.199), first in WHIP (0.99), second in ERA, and first in xFIP, per FanGraphs.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds in the team’s media guide, Encarnacion originally signed with the Red Sox for just $40,000 out of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic in September 2018.

He made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League the following year and wound up leading the team in both starts (14) and strikeouts (49) before heading off to fall instructs.

After the 2020 minor-league season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Encarnacion returned to fall instructs and showed some flashes of potential there while making preparations for the 2021 campaign.

Between the time fall instructs ended and the ’21 FCL season began, the 20-year-old hurler’s velocity “increased from 88-91 mph to 90-93 mph,” SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall wrote in September.

Cundall noted that Encarnacion’s breaking ball “flashed average in a recent start and he also showed a changeup” while adding that “his best attribute right now is his control, as he throws a lot of strikes and shows some feel for command.” 

Despite his aforementioned height and weight listed in the Red Sox’ media guide, Cundall writes that Encarnacion “has some projection remaining in his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame.”

On that note, SoxProspects.com projects that Encarnacion will begin the 2022 season alongside Gonzalez at Low-A Salem. Unlike Gonzalez, though, Encarnacion will not become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft until the end of 2023.

(Picture of Juan Daniel Encarnacion: Bryan Green/Flickr)

Reviewing the year Red Sox pitching prospect Wilkelman Gonzalez had between the Florida Complex League and Low-A Salem

Of the 39 pitchers who took the mound for the Red Sox’ Florida Complex League affiliate this year, none (outside of Chris Sale) might have stuck out more than right-hander Wilkelman Gonzalez.

The 19-year-old began the 2021 minor-league season in Fort Myers and was outstanding throughout the summer. In eight appearances (seven starts), he posted a 3.60 ERA and 2.83 FIP to go along with 46 strikeouts to eight walks over 35 innings of work.

On August 27, Gonzalez earned himself a promotion to Low-A Salem, where he closed out his year by putting up a miniscule 1.53 ERA and 3.98 FIP in addition to 20 strikeouts and eight walks across four starts spanning 17 2/3 innings pitched.

Among those in the FCL who accrued at least 35 innings in 2021, Gonzalez ranked eighth in strikeouts per nine innings (11.83), sixth in strikeout rate (32.6%), ninth in walk rate (5.7%), eighth in WHIP (1.06), and third in FIP, per FanGraphs.

Originally signed out of Venezuela for $250,000 in July 2018, Gonzalez began his professional career in the Dominican Summer League the following year. After the 2020 minor-league season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 6-foot, 180 pound hurler made a strong impression in fall instructs and carried that momentum over into 2021.

Coming into the year, Gonzalez was not regarded by Baseball America as one of the top 30 prospects in Boston’s farm system. By early August (and a few weeks before getting promoted to Low-A), the athletic righty had moved up to No. 15 in BA’s midseason prospect rankings for the Red Sox organization.

Back in September, SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall offered some insight into the season Gonzalez had down at the Fenway South complex.

“Gonzalez has been 93-95 mph with his fastball, while his changeup at 86-88 mph has been his best secondary pitch,” wrote Cundall. “He has shown the ability to turn it over, and the pitch now projects as above-average at least, when last fall it was his third pitch. He also has refined his breaking ball, switching from a slow, loopy curveball to a slider in the high-70s with average-to-better potential.”  

While there is plenty to be encouraged about there, Cundall notes that scouts are somewhat concerned about Gonzalez’s unimposing frame and a delivery that requires some effort.

With that, Cundall writes, “there is some reliever risk, but regardless, he is a very exciting arm and one whose stock is well up this year.”  

Gonzalez, who turns 20 in March, is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season where he ended the 2021 campaign: in Salem, and as a member of starting rotation there.

The 2022 season has the makings to be an important one for Gonzalez, as he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career next winter.

(Picture of Wilkelman Gonzalez: Bryan Green/Flickr)

Red Sox pitching prospect Cesar Ruiz could be primed for breakout in 2022

Baseball America’s Ben Badler recently identified Red Sox pitching prospect Cesar Ruiz as a potential breakout candidate for 2022 among pitchers who spent the 2021 season in the Dominican Summer League and “are under the radar now but could make bigger names for themselves next year.”

Ruiz, 18, originally signed with Boston for $200,000 out of Venezuela in July 2019. After the 2020 minor-league season was wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the young right-hander got his first taste of pro ball this summer.

In eight starts for the Red Sox Red DSL affiliate, Ruiz posted a 4.50 ERA and 4.14 FIP to go along with 17 strikeouts to 11 walks over 20 total innings of work. He held opposing hitters to a .197 batting average against, but did so while putting up an 18.9% strikeout rate and 12.2% walk rate.

While those numbers may not be all that eye-popping, Badler notes that despite his lower profile, Ruiz — who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds — is still filling out and has even more room to grow in 2022.

“Signed in 2019 touching 88 mph, Ruiz touched 90 mph later that year after signing, then this year was sitting 89-93 mph and touched 95 mph as an 18-year-old,” Badler wrote on Monday. “Ruiz has good arm action, a relatively smooth delivery and has more strength projection left in his 6-foot-3 frame, so there’s a chance he could still add more velocity. He has added more power to his breaking ball since signing, showing feel to spin a pitch with average or better upside.”

Back in September, SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall echoed the same sort of sentiment, writing that Ruiz “showed some of the best present stuff of any arm on the DSL Red Sox while still possessing plenty of projection.

“His delivery is on the stiff side, but his fastball already gets up to 93 mph and sits 89-92 mph,” added Cundall. “He also throws a slider at 81-83 mph and changeup at 80-83 mph.” 

Since he was used in relatively short bursts in the Dominican this year, Ruiz is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 minor-league campaign in the bullpen for the rookie-level Florida Complex League Red Sox.

The Red Sox, as noted by Badler, have had recent success when it comes to scouting and signing pitchers from Venezuela, with right-handers Jedixson Paez, Alvaro Mejias, Luis Perales, and Wilkelman Gonzalez standing out among the rest.

Perhaps Ruiz will join this promising group of Venezuelan-born hurlers and establish himself even more beginning in the spring.

(Picture of Cesar Ruiz via his Instagram)