Name: Edinson Rincon
DOB: August 11, 1990
Signed as an international free agent in May of 2007, Rincon was immediately put to work as a 16-year-old. He hit .295 with a .383 on-base percentage and nine extra base hits across 33 games with the Dominican Summer League Padres and earned a stateside promotion.
"This kid, from day one, from the time we saw him, tremendous work ethic, pitch recognition, plate discipline, that was evident at 16," Padres director of player development and international scouting Randy Smith said. "He's just taking it to the next level. He's healthy all year, the power is starting to come.
"I think this guy is just going to be a tremendous hitter. And hopefully at third base, but if not, he can play somewhere, whether it's the outfield, he runs decent enough, or first base or who knows."
Rincon, who turned 17 while in the Arizona Rookie League, began his stateside career under duress; he went hitless in his first 21 at-bats. After the auspicious start, Rincon battled back to go 8-for-24 over his final eight games to boost his average to .178.
Ironically, the success began in the first game after his 17th birthday. It was a terrific sign that he could make an adjustment at such a young age.
A knee injury that required surgery precluded Rincon from beginning the 2008 season on time. He returned to the AZL Padres in late July and made a positive impression at the dish.
In 23 games, the Dominican native hit .308 with a .429 on-base percentage. Fifteen of his 20 hits came with runners in scoring position, netting 19 RBI as a result. He hit .429 with runners in scoring position compared to a .174 mark with the bases empty.
He did draw 14 walks compared to 18 strikeouts, although nine of the strikeouts came in his first six games.
Just two of his hits, however, went for extra bases. Things changed in 2009.
Originally slated for Arizona Rookie ball again, Rincon was moved up to short-season Eugene and destroyed the league from beginning to end. The third baseman hit .300 across 70 games with 28 extra-base hits – tied for third-most in the Northwest League – with seven homers.
"I think he turned 19 in July or August, something like that at the end of the season so he'll play almost the whole season next year 19 years old," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "But I'll tell you what, he was selective, and he turned some of those college slide ball guys and breaking ball guys around. He turned their stuff around. He had to have two hits the last game in Salem, and as soon as he got them, I took him out so he'd end up at .300 and he hit it right on the nose I think. You've got to take care of your kids when you get a chance."
The 19-year-old drew 46 walks compared to 60 strikeouts for a .415 on-base percentage. He had 25 multi-hit games during the course of the season and hit .417 with the bases loaded.
"When we look at projecting guys because it is all about playing in the big leagues, he is one guy that if you envision this 19-year-old kid three or four years down the road, you could see him doing what Aramis Ramirez does for the Chicago Cubs," former minor league field coordinator Tom Gamboa said. "When I was coaching for the Cubs, Ramirez made his big league debut at 19 from Pittsburgh. Seeing him when he first came up and seeing him today, I can easily see Eddie falling into that same vain. That was personally the most exciting thing for me to see."
The Dominican native notched a 14-game home hitting streak and placed fifth in on-base percentage. He was also fourth in runs scored, total bases (125) and RBI and third in walks drawn.
Traits that aren't evident in many young Latin American prospects are clearly viewed with Rincon. The stout specimen has strong pitch recognition and patience, as well as a knack for getting the barrel of the bat on the ball. He is one of those rare players where the ball simply sounds different when it hits his stick.
"Second on the team, probably in the 50s, 56, something like that in walks," Riddoch said. "He's the most selective Latin player in our whole organization. A real good makeup kid."
The converted catcher has a solid foundation for hitting. His entire setup shows minimal movement outside of what is necessary. He doesn't have the biggest of loads, since his hands are pretty far back at the start of his stance, but electricity flows through his arms to give him one of the quickest bats in the system.
"What I like is he's learning to be a student of the game, even his English," former Eugene hitting coach Eric Peyton said. "He's gotten 10 times better with his English. He comes to play everyday.
"They pitched him tough. I know he learned a lot. I know he's going to be very good. I think he'll be a big leaguer, and the sky's the limit, it really is the limit for his age. I was proud of him."
"He's kind of been like Simon Castro this year in terms of his work ethic and intelligence, and when you put those things together, you can't help but see results," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "Offensively, he exceeded expectations of what he could do at this level. He was a leader on the club, and showed great plate discipline."
Creating natural backspin with a level swing plane that keeps his bat level and steady through the zone, Rincon maximizes his hard contact ability. He keeps his shoulder in tight and will, occasionally, not following through by cutting his swing short. That saps his power. Rincon rarely moves his head, keeping it parallel to the ground and on the ball. It is one of the sweetest swings in the system.
Observers believed he would always be able to hit. In that regard, Rincon did not disappoint. His fielding, however, left much to be desired. As many games as he won because of his bat, his shabby defense gave those wins back. Rincon committed 22 errors in 44 games at third base, compiling an .818 fielding percentage. He does not have very good balance on his throws and rushes everything, including his glove to hand exchange.
"We still have some cleanup to do with him defensively, but he never got down on himself and kept going back out there," Fuson said.
Because he is off-balance when throwing, he will fire balls errantly. While he has enough arm, the third baseman isn't under control during the process.
There are rumblings that he will have to move off third base but no one in power has decreed it so.
"He has a cannon for an arm," Smith said. "Some of it is footwork, some is that he has only played a limited amount of third. We will have to see. I think it is more a question of feet, quickness, getting in position to field and throw.
"He has incredible makeup. It is the one thing that stood out from day one. He has a great work ethic, intelligent – mature well beyond his years."
Rincon takes his base running seriously. Not a stolen base threat by any means, he will use his heads up attitude to grab an extra bag when fielders are sleeping. His hustle more than makes up for a lack of speed.
Insanely strong with a rock solid build, Rincon has a strong work ethic and desire to be the best. His grasp of the English language has improved significantly in the last year, and he has become a prominent leader. Rincon always flashes his smile and keeps his spirits up. He is not prone to the daily grind that sways many a minor league player.
"It is a premium bat that will hit for average and hit for power," Smith said. "The position will sort itself out over time.
"He can throw, he moves well enough. I know (fielding coordinator) Gary Jones is still confident that he's going to end up a third baseman. But we'll see. Again, an awful young guy who put up fantastic numbers in Northwest League and really has maturity--he's a leader. Nineteen years of age and already shows leadership ability."
"Plenty of arm, not accurate from time to time," Riddoch said. "I think he's going to have to play a different position, personally, than third base. I don't know what that's going to be, but that would be my suggestion to try him in another position. And he was a catcher, they converted him from a catcher when he got here."
Conclusion: Rincon will continue to get stronger and emerge as a definitive power threat that can go deep in any yard. With a patient approach and his ability to do damage, he fits snugly in the heart of the lineup. Finding a spot to play is the only real question for a kid whose ceiling remains immense and the likelihood of reaching it seems to slim.
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