Almost 18 months ago (Dec. 9, 2015) the Atlanta Braves sent Shelby Miller and minor-leaguer Gabe Speier off into the desert in exchange for three players. The Diamondbacks, desperate for a second starter behind the newly acquired Zack Greinke, sent the Bravos right-handed pitcher Aaron Blair, infielder Dansby Swanson and outfielder Ender Inciarte.
Naturally, most of Braves Country knew of Swanson. A local kid out of Marietta who made a name for himself at Vanderbilt, highlighted by his Commodores appearance in the 2015 NCAA College Baseball World Series.
They probably had to do a little more research on Blair, who at the time had only pitched as high as Triple-A, but was still one of the D-backs top prospects with many scouts looking at the tall, young RHP out of Marshall to be a good third or fourth option in many team’s starting rotation.
The one guy who was kind of a throw-in at the time with not much known about him or his game? The 25-year old kid out of Venezuela, Inciarte. A young but talented player who was an afterthought in a then crowded Arizona outfield.
Inciarte was signed by the Diamondbacks in 2008 at the age of 17. Through his first six professional seasons, Inciarte never batted above .300. He never hit more than six home runs in one season, nor did he tally more than 55 RBI. In 2012, the Philadelphia Phillies actually selected Inciarte from the D-backs in the Rule 5 Draft, and then returned him. Oops!
Many baseball analysts thought then Diamondbacks’ GM Dave Stewart overpaid when he sent Swanson, Blair and Inciarte to Atlanta in exchange for Miller and Speier before the 2016 season. Much of the criticism was based on the team giving up Swanson, who was the No. 1 overall player taken in the 2015 MLB draft.
Then just before the start of the season, the Diamondbacks once crowded outfield suddenly became very thin, seemingly overnight. Arizona lost centerfielder A.J. Pollock for most of the year after he broke his elbow sliding into home plate in the team’s last exhibition game. Then right fielder David Peralta found himself on the DL several times throughout the season dealing with multiple injuries. Many at Chase Field could have been thinking, “Boy, it sure would be nice to have that speedy, scrappy outfielder named Inciarte right now.”
Instead, Arizona was forced to use multiple players who had only played the infield and converted them into outfielders for the first time. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Braves Country was quickly introduced to the speedy, scrappy outfielder they called Inciarte.
Ender quickly became a fan favorite. While his bat earned him a .291 average with three homers and 29 RBI. It was his glove that stole the show and earned him the respect of his fans and peers alike.
Inciarte’s first year with the Braves yielded his first ever Golden Glove award. The now 26-year old was chasing down almost everything hit to him in the outfield and helping a young pitching staff by recording outs most others at his position would not have been able to track down.
So how has the lefty elevated his game and made him arguably the best return piece in that Shelby Miller deal? By using his bat this year.
Entering Wednesday, Inciarte has a .303 batting average, having already tied his career mark for most home runs in a season, tallying six in his first 56 games. Plus, he has already racked up 24 RBI. That’s just 19 RBI shy of tying his career-high in one season and the calendar only just rolled over to June.
Just how good has Inciarte been for the Braves lately? Well, following an 0-for-6 performance against the Reds on Saturday night, Ender went on to reach base safely in 10 consecutive plate appearances for the Braves over the next two games. In his last 38 games, Inciarte has 57 hits.
Number 11 is on a tear for Atlanta lately. With Inciarte on pace to shatter all his previous career highs, give Blair and Swanson all the time they need to develop into what the Braves hope they can become. Ender is just going to keep over-performing and exceeding all expectations.
In his last 162 games (dating back to June 1 of 2016), Inciarte is 204 for 667 (.306) with nine homers, 51 RBI and 23 stolen bags.
If you ask Dave Stewart why he was fired by Arizona at the end of the 2016, there’s a good chance he’d mention he gave up too much talent with like likes of Inciarte doing what he does for the Braves night in and night out.