Jays see potential in Encarnacion's glove
New third baseman isn't in Rolen's league but has ability
TORONTO -- Replacing Scott Rolen at third base is practically an impossible task. After trading Rolen to the Reds on Friday, the Blue Jays lost a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner and perhaps one of the top defenders in baseball history at his position.
Blue Jays bench coach Brian Butterfield, who doubles as Toronto's infield instructor, hardly needed to give Rolen advice during the season and a half the pair worked together.
"Even if there was something there that I could've helped Rolen with," said Butterfield, who then cracked a smile, "he would've just yelled and screamed at me anyway."
A few hours prior to Wednesday's tilt with the Yankees, Butterfield and Jays third-base coach Nick Leyva were on the diamond at Rogers Centre with newly acquired third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. Over the season's final months, Buttterfield and Leyva plan on teaming with Encarnacion to tackle his defense.
Encarnacion -- sent from Cincinnati to Toronto along with reliever Josh Roenicke and Minor League pitcher Zach Stewart -- is not in Rolen's league as an elite defender. So far, though, Butterfield said he likes what he has seen from Encarnacion in his first few games with the Blue Jays. There is plenty of work to be done, but Butterfield believes the foundation is solid.
When he learned that the Jays had obtained Encarnacion, the first thing Butterfield did was phone up Reds bench coach and infield instructor Chris Speier. The two went over Encarnacion's strengths and weaknesses, and Butterfield has spent the past few days observing the third baseman and doing his own evaluation.
"He has great glove action," Butterfield said. "He catches the ball the way I've always taught it. You run to the ball, and there's a point where the ball is getting on you and you present the glove and you keep it open -- relax it and keep it open. Whether it's going to be your backhand or to your glove side, you present the glove, and you keep that thing open. A lot of guys will glove-flip at the last second -- they'll present it late.
"As I see him so far, I'm very impressed with his glove. His hands, there's no panic in his hands. He's got a strong throwing arm. There's some things that we may see -- just like Chris Speier saw when he was over there -- but it's obviously good ability to work with."
Entering Wednesday, the 26-year-old Encarnacion owned a .938 career fielding percentage with between 16-25 errors in each of the past three seasons. Rolen boasted a .967 career fielding percentage and had not committed more than 16 errors in a single season since having 24 in 1997 -- his second big league campaign.
Butterfield said Encarnacion is well aware of what he needs to work on the most.
"Nick asked him today," Butterfield said. "He said, 'Out of your errors that you've had last year and this year, would you say they're half and half? Half fielding and half throwing?' [Encarnacion] goes, 'No. If I was to have 10 errors, I would say eight would be throwing and two would be fielding.'
"Obviously, just by listening to Edwin talk, he knows that he's got to become a more consistent thrower, and that will come. That will come with time. He's still a young Major League player."
A perfect example of what separates a player like Rolen from other third basemen came in the third inning on Tuesday night in Toronto.
Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez sent a sharply hit grounder down the third-base line, where Encarnacion made a nice backhanded stab at the ball. After gathering himself, Encarnacion sent the baseball skipping across the diamond to first, where Rodriguez easily reached for an infield single. It was the type of difficult play Rolen has made look routine over the years.
Butterfield said that part of Rolen's success was in his footwork.
"Nobody has feet like Rolen," Butterfield said.
Even so, Butterfield believes Encarnacion shows promise and can improve as a defender. That being said, the Blue Jays' bench coach also realizes that switching ballclubs and working with new coaches does not always bring greater success for a player. The Jays are hoping to be an exception in that regard.
"Some people think that just because a guy goes to another organization," Butterfield said, "that all of a sudden this coaching staff is going to be the magic elixir. That's not necessarily so, but you always like to think that maybe there's one thing that Nick Leyva can get across to him that maybe has been overlooked.
"I consider Chris Speier one of the better infield instructors in all of baseball. So I know that he's worked very hard and diligently with this guy, which we will do. Who knows? You hope [Encarnacion can improve]. At least there's something to work with."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.