2017 Atlanta Braves Preview: Center Fielder Ender Inciarte

Sep 12, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte (11) slides into third on a triple against the Miami Marlins in the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 12, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte (11) slides into third on a triple against the Miami Marlins in the first inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

Over the course of one season, Atlanta’s Venezuelan import went from relative unknown to absolute fan favorite. How will he fare in his sophomore season with the Braves?

Prior to December of 2015, I’d wager Ender Inciarte was not a household name for most Atlanta Braves fans. As a young defensive specialist on the west coast, one with little enough prospect hype to be taken (and returned) in the Rule 5 draft, Inciarte was among baseball’s best-kept secrets.

After being included in the not-at-all balanced Shelby Miller trade, Inciarte garnered more press than he had at any point in his young career (mostly from statheads who pointed out that he alone may be as valuable as Miller).

Now, 15 months, one Gold Glove, and one five-year extension later, the 26-year-old has become an integral part of Atlanta’s core and one of the team’s more popular players.

So, what can we look forward to from Inciarte this season?


By any reasonable measure, Inciarte is an elite defender in center. The advanced metrics (including newly-available Statcast data) and the eye-test both love his glove work. Realistically, the only National League CF within striking distance is Reds speedster Billy Hamilton. Those two could battle for Gold Gloves for the next half-decade.

He has shown an ability to make the highlight reel grabs (like this one, or this one, or this one, or…). However, he’s also proven virtually flawless on more routine plays. This isn’t Gary Matthews Jr. earning a defensive reputation on one play.

Given his closing speed and quick first step, Inciarte can cover a ton of ground in SunTrust Park and mitigate some of the defensive shortcomings of his neighbors.


Kevin Kiermaier is (believe it or not) a better defensive player than Inciarte. He’s also arguably a better hitter. That being said, the gap between the two 26-year-olds isn’t huge.

For reference, many applauded the Rays for getting a steal with the Kiermaier deal.

This newly minted pact isn’t quite a heist on the scale of the Miller trade, but it’s up there.

With one team option included in the contract, Atlanta could control Inciarte’s age 26-31seasons for under $40 million. Or, in other terms, the Braves can control a three-win player* in his prime for well below his expected market value.

The deal gives Atlanta cost-control if Inciarte were to have an absurd breakout (such as adding power). However, even in an absolute worst-case scenario where 2016 was his peak and he begins to regress, the contract will never become an albatross.

*A) This is a conservative estimate. He’s recorded 9.5 fWAR and 12.7 rWAR in just under three seasons. B) I know a lot of folks around here aren’t huge fans of WAR but come on, I’m using it to compliment the team on a killer contract extension.

The Elephant in the Room

Here’s the thing about team-friendly contracts – they have colossal trade value. While the whole “flipping more established players for future assets” shtick has started to get old, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Coppolella would dangle Inciarte in trade talks.

As some have noted, Atlanta has an heir apparent in center.

Ronald Acuna has taken the minors by storm and looked outstanding in big league camp. His MLB debut is likely a year away but once he’s ready, Atlanta will either have to waste one of him or Inciarte in right field or make room another way.

While I’d love to see Inciarte manning center for the duration of his contract, the fact remains that there are plenty of legitimate contenders who could use him as an upgrade.

His contract is immensely valuable to the Braves but, given that Acuna is waiting in the wings, if the Cubs (Jon Jay), Giants (Denard Span), or Indians (Tyler Naquin) decide to bolster their options in center, Inciarte could be available at the right price.

Who knows? Baseball is weird.


Neither ZiPS nor Steamer have faith in Inciarte building on his excellent Atlanta debut outside of a slight spike in power. Both of them have him posting a career high strikeout rate, losing about 20 points of OBP, and regressing on defense.

At the risk of turning this entire endeavor into an exercise in homerism – I’m banking on more.

More from Tomahawk Take

Lost in his final 2016 stat line is Inciarte’s lackluster start and early season injury. Take a look at the difference between his first and second half lines.

  • First Half: .227/.294/.306 over 254 PA
  • Second Half: .341/.396/.440 over 324 PA

While his overall numbers fell roughly in line with his career averages, it’s clear that after getting acquainted with his new home and recovering from injury, Inciarte improved dramatically.

He’s probably not going to challenge for a batting title or flirt with a .400 OBP like he did in the second half but there’s reason to believe that his sophomore season in Atlanta could be better than 2016.

Whether Inciarte’s future is with the Braves (fingers crossed) or elsewhere, he’s certainly proven that he’s more than just “some other guy” from the Miller-Swanson trade. Between his elite glove, solid speed, and respectable bat, he should have a long and prosperous MLB career.

Next: Paco Your Bags

For 2017, though, the Braves would be happy with a repeat of last year and ecstatic over any improvement. He will likely bat lead off and be a steady, everyday presence for the team as they transition to their new home.