Edwin Encarnacion has been the whipping boy of sorts for the fans of the Toronto Blue Jays. Throughout 2010 and through the early part of 2011 his error-prone defense and slumps at the plate made him the target of fans' derision.
But after his struggles in April and May, his batting line has continuously improved in leaps and bounds.
He started to receive regular at-bats at the designated hitter position and seemed to regain some confidence since he was no longer worrying about his defensive play. His focus continuously improved and with it, his bat. In the few starts he had at third, his defensive play was spectacular.
But it was clear that where he excelled was at the DH position.
Encarnacion's ability to get on base jumped dramatically; as his power and consistency at the plate improved, so did his ability to draw a walk. He went from one walk in May, to five in June, 10 in July and seven in eight games in August.
With the increased success at the plate, the power that Encarnacion showed glimpses of last season began to return. One of the reasons that the Blue Jays re-signed Encarnacion in the offseason was his ability to hit the ball out of the park, and they believed that with consistent playing time, that he could develop into a 30 home run hitter.
At the start of June, Encarnacion just had one home run to his credit, but he was hitting doubles more than ever before, his 19 in 247 at-bats before the All-Star break was enough to lead the team. Again, that was nothing compared to the numbers he would begin posting after the halfway mark.
In his 83 at-bats of the second half, Encarnacion has hit .361 with a 1.102 OPS, 30 hits, 10 doubles, four home runs and 12 RBI.
In their first game against the Oakland Athletics in August, Encarnacion went 2-for-2 with two walks, scoring the only run for the Jays with a solo homer. Then in the second game of the series, he went 1-for-3 with a double, an RBI and two walks.
So the question now is, for the Blue Jays—who are actively building a young team for the present and future—how does Encarnacion fit into the team's future plans?
He isn't often identified as a core piece going forward by most press, as he is most suited to the DH role, and this is a team that prefers to use that position for players who are taking a break from the field for the day.
But the team obviously can't ignore what he is doing at the plate right now, and are trying to make sure his bat stays in the lineup in every situation. Recently he was seen to be taking fly balls in the outfield to see whether he could fill in at left field in a pinch.
If Encarnacion keeps performing even reasonably close to his current production, then the contract he signed with Alex Anthopoulos for $2.5 million this year and a club option for $3.5 million in 2012 could turn out to be a relative bargain.
It would appear that Encarnacion doesn't want to be any team's scapegoat, and he is making a strong case to be a part of the team going into the future.