After delivering one of the best months ever in franchise history, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion was honored with the American League Player of the Month award for the month of May.
The 31-year-old hit .281/.369/.763 with 16 home runs, 33 runs batted in and 26 runs scored during the month to win the award for the first time in his career.
Encarnacion’s powerful performance even got him into the record books, as his 16 home runs tied him with the great Mickey Mantle for the most home runs ever hit during May in the American League.
The most impressive part about Encarnacion’s scorching month was seeing how quickly he rebounded from a slow start to the season. The slugger had struggled badly in April, hitting just two home runs and striking out in nearly 25 percent of his at-bats. He would then go on to have five multi-homer games in May and strike out just 16 times in 114 at-bats.
Encarnacion’s award is another high point during what has been a very interesting relationship between himself and the Blue Jays.
After being acquired in a 2009 trade, the then-third baseman underwent a period of struggles in Toronto and was even demoted to the minors in 2010. When that season ended, the Blue Jays placed him on waivers and lost him to the Oakland Athletics.
As fate would have it, Oakland cut Encarnacion loose three weeks later, and the Dominican ended up returning to the Blue Jays that same offseason as a free agent. Things would finally start getting better from there on out.
After a decent 2011 season where he hit .272 with 17 home runs and 55 RBI in 134 games, Toronto finally seemed to accept Encarnacion as a key player on the team and opted to bring him back for the 2012 season.
That move immediately paid dividends for the Blue Jays, as Encarnacion enjoyed a breakout year, hitting .280/.384/.557 with a whopping 42 home runs and 110 RBI. He followed that up with another great season in 2013, hitting .272 with 36 home runs and 104 RBI.
There have been several explanations offered for Encarnacion’s success. Some people—including Encarnacion himself—credit a change in his hitting approach where he now uses both hands to swing through the ball. A move from third base—where he struggled defensively and wasn’t confident playing—to first base has also been seen as being beneficial to his career.
Encarnacion and Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista (an unlikely success story himself) now form one of the best power-hitting combos in baseball.
Despite all his success these past two seasons, Encarnacion remains one of the more underrated players in baseball. This AL Player of the Month award should serve notice to the rest of MLB that Bautista isn’t the only superstar on the Blue Jays any longer.
*All stats are from Baseball-Reference.com.