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Jean Carlos Encarnacíon making quick impression after trade to Orioles: 'He does some things we don't have'

One of the Orioles’ trades July 31 sent All-Star second baseman Jonathan Schoop to the Milwaukee Brewers. The second, for Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day’s contract, brought back a young right-handed hitter from the Atlanta Braves in Jean Carlos Encarnacíon, who Low-A Delmarva manager Buck Britton can’t help but see a little bit of Schoop in.

“He’s a presence,” Britton said before Tuesday’s Shorebirds washout with the Rome Braves. “He does some things we don’t have. … He hit a home run the other night that was an absolute missile of a home run. That, we haven’t seen all year. And at that size, he also runs. The kid can fly. So, there’s two tools that stand out. And he’s got a really good arm. This is a big, 20-year-old kid who, hopefully, as he progresses, we’re looking at somebody who can be a staple, maybe like a Jonathan Schoop-type of player at the big league level for him.”

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The Orioles pitching prospect was shut down Tuesday after feeling elbow discomfort.

Encarnacíon, 20, was the most interesting piece in a deal that also brought in left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, catcher Brett Cumberland and reliever Evan Phillips, plus international bonus slot money, from the Braves. He was hitting .288/.314/.463 with 10 home runs, 23 doubles and five triples for Rome before he was dealt and has made a quick transition to the Delmarva lineup, batting .286/.297/.444 with a pair of home runs in 16 games entering Thursday.

Six of those 16 games have come against his old club, Rome, because of a South Atlantic League scheduling quirk that didn’t have them face each other until August. That’s given Encarnacíon a chance to check in with some of the staff who helped take major strides in his first full professional season.

Rome manager Rocket Wheeler ticked off many of those same attributes that Britton sees.

“What’s he, 6-foot-3?” Wheeler said. “But lean, and a third baseman that can run? When’s the last time you saw a third baseman that can run? And there’s the plus arm, and he’s got some pop at the plate. He could probably got to the outfield right now. He’s an athlete. That was the joy of him, being around him, just watching him play.”

Rome’s hitting coach, Bobby Moore, said the pleasure for him was seeing some of the raw strength and ability Encarnacíon brought into the season translate into results.

“He was a guy that was raw,” Moore said. “Had ability, but was raw. Still learning. He’s just getting the fundamentals of hitting, an approach, starting a middle-of-the-field approach. Stride, working with your hands, and land with balance. All praise to him. He came to the cage every day early, doing it. You start seeing results in the game, and with the results, you start seeing more power, driving the ball, because he was able to use his back side and get through a ball properly.”

Moore, like many hitting coaches, stressed that a hitter like Encarnacíon should always be geared up for the fastball but should trust himself enough to recognize a breaking ball or changeup and stay back on it. He said Encarnacíon embraced watching video and studying opposing starters to get a better sense of how he’d be pitched, but even so, he’s been a bit of a free-swinger. It’s the classic case of a young hitter who believes he can get his bat on everything, and at times can.

“He’ll jump on that high fastball, and there’s a couple times this summer he went up there looking for a breaking ball and hit it out,” Wheeler said. “So, in a way, he’s ahead of the game. He’s still chasing, as all young hitters do. Even major league hitters will chase. But he has an idea when he goes to the plate, and he knows what he wants to do.”

The Orioles’ challenge will be to harness that. But Britton knows it’s not good practice to try and do too much with a player right after a trade, or get tricked by anything that shows up in a few weeks’ time.

“But he’s a typical young hitter: he’s strong, and he likes to swing and I think he thinks he can hit a lot of stuff,” Britton said. “I was talking the other day [about how] he swings at a lot of breaking balls, but he doesn’t swing at them out of control because he doesn’t recognize them. He swings at them and tries to hit them.

“And I think as you see young hitters develop, they learn what they can and can’t hit. At the same time that he’s swinging at them, he’s kind of learning how to hit them. You’re going to take your lumps.”

Such characterizations of an aggressive breaking-ball hitter came to describe Schoop as he developed into a major league All-Star, but that wasn’t the case when Schoop was a teenager and sharing the field at High-A Frederick with Britton.

“Not early, but it was almost like he swung at them and they get to the point where they figure out how to hit them,” Britton said. “If you never swing at them, you’re probably never going to learn how to hit them. That’s what I think. As long as he’s swinging at them in the zone, if he’s swinging and missing, OK. But something is going to click and he’s going to learn how to hit these things. And when that happens, this kid, he’ll hit a ball a country mile.”

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