When the Braves got Ender Inciarte from the Diamondbacks in a blockbuster trade 11 months ago, Atlanta general manager John Coppolella trusted his scouts who said he’d be strong as a starting center fielder.
Having long since proven they knew what they were talking about, Inciarte won a Gold Glove Award on Tuesday as the best defensive center fielder in the National League.
It’s the first Gold Glove for Inciarte and came in his third season and his first as a primary center fielder, after the Venezuelan left-hander rotated between all three outfield positions for two seasons with the Diamondbacks.
The Braves got him with shortstop prospect Dansby Swanson and pitching prospect Aaron Blair in the 2015 Winter Meetings trade for pitcher Shelby Miller.
“That’s a credit to our scouts,” Coppolella said. “I didn’t have a lot of familiarity with Ender. I’d watched him on video and seen him when they played us. But our scouts out west raved about him. I give credit to the scouts because they really pushed for him. I was worried about, is this guy a prototypical everyday center fielder? Absolutely.
“This guy’s a special player. He was just really sort of unknown, and he proved that and more.”
Inciarte’s lengthy 2016 highlight reel of defensive gems included the now-famous “Game Ender” – a leaping catch to rob the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes of a home run for the final out Sept. 21 win before a stunned crowd at New York’s Citi Field.
“Ender made some magical plays out there,” Coppolella said. “I mean, the play in New York really stands out because it won the game for us. But he’s done such a great job. He’s really fun to watch. His instincts and tools – whenever the ball’s hit and he’s playing center field, you feel like he’s going to make a play on it.”
Inciarte beat out the Reds’ Billy Hamilton and the Phillies’ Odubel Herrera for the center field award, the first Gold Glove for the Braves since their former shortstop Andrelton Simmons and right fielder Jason Heyward won them in 2014.
The Braves’ other Gold Glove finalist this year, right fielder Nick Markakis, lost out to Heyward, who won his third consecutive award for his third different team, the Cubs. Heyward also won in his only season with St. Louis in 2015 and has four Gold Gloves in the past five seasons.
Inciarte, who turned 26 last month, ranked second among NL outfielders in assists, with 14, including a league-high 12 in center field. He did that despite missing a month with a hamstring strain and starting only 117 games in center (he also made nine starts in left field).
He and Hamilton tied for third among NL outfielders in defensive runs saved with 15, and no other NL center fielder had as many as 10. Inciarte was second among NL outfielders in putouts, with 351, trailing Herrera (372). No other NL outfielder had as many as 320.
Hamilton (13.4) and Inciarte (13.3) were second and third among NL outfielders in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) behind Heyward (20.4).
Hardly limited to outstanding defense, Inciarte overcame a slow start to hit .291 with 34 extra-base hits, 16 stolen bases and career-bests in OBP (.351), triples (seven) and runs (85) in 131 games. He was among the majors’ most productive leadoff hitters after the All-Star break, batting .341 with 100 hits, a .396 OBP and .836 OPS in 72 games.
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