3 ways Christian Encarnacion-Strand can make the Reds Opening Day roster

Cincinnati Reds third baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand.
Cincinnati Reds third baseman Christian Encarnacion-Strand. / Sam Greene / USA TODAY NETWORK
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The Cincinnati Reds have a problem on their hands. Don't get me wrong, it's a good problem to have, but it's still a problem.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand is absolutely dominating the Cactus League so far this spring. If the Reds seventh-best prospect (according to MLB Pipeline) seems to be hitting everything seems to be hitting everything in sight, that's because he is.

Encarnacion-Strand is hitting the cover off the ball this spring with a batting average north of .600 and 10 runs batted in. Encarnacion-Strand certainly looks the part, but how can the infielder actually make the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster?

1. Christian Encarnacion-Strand can make the Reds Opening Day roster if Joey Votto is on the Injured List.

One way for the Cincinnati Reds to add Christian Encarnacion-Strand to the Opening Day roster is dependent on the health of the team's longtime first baseman and six-time All-Star. Joey Votto has been sidelined all spring after undergoing shoulder surgery last summer.

By all accounts, it appears as though Votto will not be ready for Opening Day. This would certainly open the door for Encarnacion-Strand to have his contract selected and find his way into the heart of David Bell's lineup card on March 30th against the Pittsburgh.

Encarnacion-Strand, though he came through the Minnesota Twins farm system as a third baseman, has been receiving most of his playing time this spring at first base. With the Reds intent on getting fellow prospect Spencer Steer regular playing time at third base, it stands to reason why Cincinnati's coaching staff has made this decision.

Adding Christian Encarnacion-Strand to the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster as the team's primary first base is fine if Joey Votto isn't ready to go. But what if he is? There are other ways for the Reds to finagle the roster if they really want to get Encarnacion-Strand in the lineup.

2. Christian Encarnacion-Strand can make the Reds Opening Day roster if the team carries just 2 catchers.

This seems highly unlikely as all offseason the Cincinnati Reds have had the intent of carrying three catchers into the regular season. And can you blame them? Last season saw Cincinnati use seven different backstops.

Heading into 2023, the Reds plan to play Tyler Stephenson behind the plate for about 65 games while splitting his remaining starts between first base and DH. The former first-round pick has his own first baseman's glove, so this seems like it's happening.

The goal is to keep Stephenson on the field. As one of the team's best hitters, Cincinnati cannot afford to have Stephenson play in just 50 games like he did during his sophomore campaign. While his best spot is unquestionably behind the plate, Stephenson can't make an impact on the game from the trainer's room.

But, if the Cincinnati Reds decided to abandon their three-catcher plan for 2023, Stephenson and Curt Casali could split time at catcher while Christian Encarnacion-Strand took over at first base. Once Joey Votto returned, the infield prospect could then split designated hitter duty with the former MVP.

Again, this is the most unlikely scenario, but it could be explored as the season progresses. Luke Maile would be the casualty in this instance, and that just doesn't seem very plausible heading into Opening Day.

3. Christian Encarnacion-Strand can make the Reds Opening Day roster if he continues to rake.

Regardless of whether or not Joey Votto is fully healthy, or if the Cincinnati Reds carry three catchers, if Christian Encarnacion-Strand continues to hit like he has throughout the first week-plus of spring training, the coaches will find him a spot on the 26-man roster.

This was the case with Jonathan India in 2021. The Reds abandoned their plans for the team's infield alignment in order to get India's bat into the lineup. Mike Moustakas was moved to third base, Eugenio Suarez was shifted to shortstop, and Kyle Farmer went back to his role as the team's top utility player.

If Encarnacion-Strand proves himself to be major league-ready during spring training, the team may have to change their infield alignment accordingly. Encarnacion-Strand and Votto could share first base/ designated hitter duties when Tyler Stephenson is behind the plate.

The Reds cannot afford to keep some of these top prospects down on the farm if a player who is not going to be part of the team's long-term future is occupying a spot on the active roster. If Encarnacion-Strand or other prospects like Matt McLain or Elly De La Cruz are deemed ready, Kevin Newman, Chad Pinder, and yes, Nick Senzel cannot be taking away playing time from the youngsters.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand is pushing his timeline up. It's likely that the Cincinnati Reds did not foresee the Oklahoma State product in their plans for Opening Day this year. But plans change.

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