Scouting Yankees Prospect #44: Gabe Encinas

The Yankees drafted right-handed pitcher Gabe Encinas in the sixth round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of St. Paul High School in California. He had begun to see a significant uptick in stuff in 2012 but succumbed to Tommy John surgery the following season. He returned last year and so did his stuff, and he still has a ton of upside.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Gabe Encinas
Position: Pitcher
DOB: December 21, 1991
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 195
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

He missed most of the 2013 season after having Tommy John surgery in June of that year and didn't make his way back into official games until July of last season, and wound up going 0-4 with a 5.26 ERA in eleven starts for the low-A Charleston RiverDogs.

"It was up and down," Encinas said of his season. "Coming back from the surgery it was more of a 'get my strength back, get back into the groove of things' type of season. To me it was more of a learning process than trying to get [wins] out there. Towards the end of the season I felt I progressed. I felt a little bit better."

For most pitchers coming back from any arm surgery, be it shoulder surgery or Tommy John surgery like he had, it takes some time to once again find the faith to let it go. Overcoming that mental hurdle of possibly getting hurt again is something that takes a little bit of time.

"I was really trying not to hold myself back from throwing the fastball but some part of me still wanted to [hold back]," he admitted. "I was not really afraid but more hesitant to unleash my arm as I did in the past."

Sitting mostly in the 94-96 mph range before his Tommy John surgery, the new goods is, despite holding back some, the power began to come back in his fastball relatively quickly. While he wasn't hitting 95-96 mph as routinely as he was before the surgery, he was able to hit those marks occasionally and sit in a very respectable 92-94 mph range in 2014.

They say command, however, takes a little bit longer to come back and with 20 walks in a little more 39 innings Encinas knows that aspect of his game make take a little longer to come around.

"My first couple of starts when I was in Charleston I felt like I was taking too much time in between pitches and I was thinking too much," he acknowledged. "Towards the end I stopped thinking at all and I got back to where I was of just going after hitters instead of pitching around them.

"Towards the end it felt like my command was starting to come back but it still wasn't [quite there]. At Instructs I felt a lot more confident in my command though. At Instructional League I was able to go in and out more often than I was during the season.

"To me it felt like the big deal was trying to hit the glove side, that outside corner. That was tough for me because it was causing me to swing across my body but we got to fix those things during Instructs and I got on a better pace of hitting my locations.

"Trust me, it's the hardest thing to get back, the command of everything. I still probably don't have full command of everything which I'm probably excited to get back [to Spring Training] camp earlier because we can work on things before Spring Training hits and before the season begins."

Just like his fastball command, it took some time for him to rediscover what once was a plus curveball, not necessarily from a power or break standpoint but from a command aspect as well.

"It was up and down [too]. There were flashes with good life to it but at the same time it was always in the back of my head. When I first injured it, it wasn't the curveball that injured [the elbow], it was the fastball. I wasn't really afraid to throw the curveball but at the same time it was really hard to get that snap off that I really wanted.

"During Instructs it was a lot better. I was able to go to the dirt whenever I wanted to snap it or throw it for a strike if I wanted to. Before this season starts and in Spring Training I want to work that in a little bit more so I'm not struggling in between innings to get it."

And just like in most typical Tommy John cases, Encinas ended his rehab program with a much better changeup than when he entered it and that's an encouraging sign for somebody who had already possessed a solid big league changeup.

"It did because it was an easier pitch to grasp during the rehab. I was working on it more frequently because my changeup was okay [before the surgery]. That's been the pitch I've really been trying to focus on because I want a good changeup. That's huge to have.

"Lately I've been working on it more than my curveball because I know I can always snap that but to get that good release out of my changeup is huge. I feel like it's gotten a little bit better. I felt like I've been throwing my changeup a little bit harder than usual but the movement on it is 100 times better than it was. It has more fade now which is a positive, still drops, so I'm looking forward to throwing it a lot more this [coming] year."

Extremely confident in his changeup and pleased with the progress of his two-seam fastball, for the time being his two biggest goals are improving the command of his four-seam fastball and especially further fine-tuning his curveball.

"Oh yeah definitely, It's going to be huge," he said of his curveball. "It keeps the batters honest. That would be the biggest thing for me to get back my curveball. I know my fastball will always be there and I know I'll get my command back with my fastball but as long as I have [my curveball] in my back pocket that would be the biggest confidence booster for me."

His confidence is definitely on the rise, especially after a particularly strong showing this offseason during Instructs. Stuff-wise he's nearly back and the command continues to improve, and he feels he should be able to pick up right where he left off before surgery and begin to tap some of his immense potential.

"Oh I'm confident," he said emphatically. "I'm very confident in my potential. To me the biggest part of the game is all mental. As long as I'm confident in my ability and confident with everything I put into the season, every practice, every game, as long as I know I did everything I could do to make myself better for my next start I'm going to be ready.

"I'm confident I could blow up again this year. I know I've got the ability, I've just got to lay it out on the field."

Most experts say it takes a full 18 months after surgery for a pitcher to once again rediscover his former self on the mound. Encinas has recently passed that mark and that has him very encouraged about the things to come starting in 2015.

"I'm very excited. I'm playing catch right now and I'm letting it eat a little bit right now. I'm seeing the life on the ball and everything looks good.

"From last season to now I see the difference. I feel the difference in my arm and I feel healthy. It feels like nothing ever happened so I'm confident, excited, and ready to go," he concluded.





























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Repertoire. Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.

Fastball. Power-wise Encinas already boasts a pair of plus fastballs. Both his sinking two-seamer and power four-seamer will average anywhere from 92-94 mph, and both have hit as high as 96 mph at times too. Broad-shouldered and naturally strong, there is even the potential for a little bit more power down the road, especially as he gets further away from his surgery, as his command improves and doesn't need to focus so much on throwing strikes, and as he begins to let it air out more. It's the command of his fastball that has ranged between average and below average over the years.

Other Pitches. While improving the velocity on his fastball has received more headlines in his development, it is just how far both his curveball and changeup have come that deserve more recognition. His once non-existent changeup in his younger days has now given way to a slightly above average one with long-term plus potential, showing excellent fade and depth, and it is now the pitch he can command the best. His curveball was once a plus power breaking ball that sat in the 81-83 mph range with great biting action that he too could throw for strikes relatively easily. The command of it hasn't exactly returned to his pre-surgery days though and even the power isn't all the way back either, sitting mostly in the 79-81 mph range last season. The power should return to form, however, as he gets further away from his surgery.

Pitching. Encinas' development certainly has not been linear in nature. Even before his surgery he had constantly battled mechanical and command issues. He had seemed to iron both of those out before his surgery and now since the surgery he is probably just a shade ahead of being back to square one command-wise. He has a plan to attack batters; pound them with plus heat, work the lower-half of the strike zone with his now reliable changeup, and set them down with his killer breaking ball. In order for the plan to work, however, he has to continually improve his command of all of his pitches. Naturally strong and effortless in his delivery, he has great endurance and stamina, and his confidence, once a bit shaky, is now a big-time positive.

Projection. With three pitches [four if you include the two-seamer] that range from above average to plus big league offerings, stuff-wise Encinas has front-line starting big league potential and that isn't even considering the very realistic possibility that he could add some more power in the coming years. He even has the ultra-high competitive nature and brimming confidence often found in 'ace' type pitchers too. What he doesn't have yet, however, is the above average command needed to tie everything together and because of that he currently projects best as a middle to back-end big league starting pitcher. A little Ivan Nova-like in that regard, Encinas' projection is nearly entirely geared towards improving his command and overall pitch-ability.

ETA. 2016. Encinas should open up in high-A Tampa in 2015 and he is going to have to move quicker at some point because a guy with his stuff isn't one that can be easily hid in a potential Rule 5 Draft. Expect to see him get some Double-A experience at some point this coming season if he does even remotely well in the Florida State League.

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