Ender Inciarte reported to spring training five days early, the Braves’ Gold Glove center fielder figuring he was already working out nearby so why not come to camp Tuesday on reporting day for pitchers and catchers.
He didn’t try to downplay his excitement about 2018 despite the rebuilding Braves riding a streak of three consecutive seasons with at least 90 losses.
“I think everybody is ready to see us winning,” said Inciarte, joining fellow outfielder Lane Adams as the earliest-arriving position players besides catchers. “We’re a very young team, but we have a lot of talent on the team also, so hopefully this year’s going to be different and we’re going be able to surprise a lot of people and start playing playoff games.
“I’ve never played in the playoffs and I’m ready for it.”
Inciarte, 27, worked out in the offseason with speed coach Tom Shaw at the Wide World of Sports Complex, where the Braves have spring training. He’s coming off a career-best season, but is eager to continue improving any way he can, and speed is an area where Inciarte has room to grow.
He took his performance to new levels in his fourth major league season in 2017, setting career-bests in average (.304), OBP (.350), slugging percentage (.409), stolen bases (22) and home runs with 11, only two fewer homers than Inciarte hit in his previous three seasons combined.
But for a player as fast as he is, stealing 22 bases in 31 attempts wasn’t nearly what some believe he’s capable of doing with better technique. To that end, the Braves have reason for optimism after adding Eric Young Sr. as first-base coach and base-running and outfield instructor.
Young, a 50-year-old former outfielder and second baseman, had 465 stolen bases in a 15-year career, including three seasons with more than 50. He led the National League with 53 in 1996 with the Rockies, hitting .324 with an .814 OPS in an All-Star season.
Inciarte was a Diamondbacks minor-leaguer when Young was Arizona’s first-base coach during 2010-12.
“I met him when I was with the Diamondbacks; he’s a great guy, a great baseball guy,” Inciarte said. “He has so much baseball knowledge and for guys like me, in the outfield and in base running, I always try to listen to whatever he says because I know he can help me. I’m just real happy to have him here and hopefully he can help everybody on the team.”