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May 2013 Prospect Profile: Gabe Encinas

05/31/2013 9:47 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Gabe Encinas had an ERA under 1.00 in Charleston prior to his injury.(flickr.com/BeGreen90)
This year, the Charleston RiverDogs roster had several 2012 draft picks, a pair of returning top prospects in Cito Culver and Dante Bichette Jr., and a ballyhooed international prospect in Rafael De Paula – but through the first two months of 2013, unheralded third-year starting pitcher Gabe Encinas was the one making the biggest impression.

Unfortunately, an elbow njury and subseuent surgery ended Encinas' season in late-May, but his seven starts before that were stellar; the 21-year-old righty went 3-0 with a 0.77 ERA, striking out 31 in 35 innings and allowing those earned runs in only two of his seven outings.

To ardent observers, that line is a somewhat unexpected one for Encinas, who was 3-7 with a 4.97 ERA in 15 starts for Staten Island last year and struck out just 48 in 70.2 innings, and the lanky righty credited an improvement in his two big pitches for the stark contrast.

“My two-seam fastball is a big benefit this year, I’ve been able to throw that real well,” Encinas said in early May, "and I’ve been working on my curveball a lot. That’s been my out pitch a lot, and last year I didn’t have that, so it’s nice to have that in my pocket this year.”

Encinas used those pitches to get ahead of hitters more often than not, and that in turn helped his confidence tremendously.

“We tend to pound the zone as best as we can and hit both sides of the plate; last year my command wasn’t as great, but this year I’ve been able to go inside when I want to and throw strikes and be a competitor,” Encinas said. “Last year, I could tell that when I got in a tough situation I didn’t compete, I just automatically gave up. This year, I trust my stuff and ability; I know I belong out here, so you’re going to see a bulldog out there every time.”

The righty also has one ace in his pocket ahead of most of the newbies; he may have spent 2012 at a short-season locale, but being that this is his third year in the system, Encinas has gone through a full year of pro ball and has not yet felt the growing pains of moving up to a full-season affiliate.

“It hasn’t been a big change yet; you take the same preparation, it’s just that the season is longer, so right now it hasn’t sunk in,” Encinas said. “Mentally you have to stay strong, or else it will get to you the longer the season rolls.”

While his numbers may have indicated readiness for a promotion, that likely wouldn't have happened in 2013 for Encinas. Before his injury, the righty was ticketed to stay in South Carolina all summer anyway, according to a conversation Yankees Minor League guru Mark Newman had with Journal News beat writer Chad Jennings earlier in the year.

“He’s made a lot of progress so far, he’s got a very good arm and he’s learning how to pitch,” Newman told Jennings, “but he’s going to stay (in Charleston). He’s going to spend the season there. He’s figuring out what it takes to be successful in terms of command and secondary.”

On the surface, that thought meant Encinas can pitch with little to no pressure, but the youngster knows that in an organization chock full of talented starting pitching depth, he still has to continue to make a good impression.

“All I can really say is that I’ve been working really hard. I know there’s a lot of great pitchers in the organization, and what they tell us all the time is that we have to come out here and compete; whether it’s against each other or the other team, you have to do that every day,” Encinas said. “We’re out here to fight, and we’re fighting to be known and take jobs and be on this field. There’s guys that wish they could be in our situation, so I’m lucky to be here; I’m off to a great start, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

He'll have to finish what he started this spring sometime in 2014, but it appears as if a corner may have been turned in his young career.

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