Encina pitches at Sullivan Field. Photo courtesy of Cardinal Athletics

Encina pitches at Sullivan Field. Photo courtesy of Cardinal Athletics

Some athletes wait forever for a chance to fulfill their professional dreams. For UIW senior Geno Encina, his dream became a reality last summer with a phone call from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Encina is the eighth player in UIW history to be drafted by a major league team. The Toronto Blue Jays turned his professional dream into reality when they picked Encina in the 18th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft. “Getting that call was the feeling of a lifetime,” Encina said. “I am fortunate the Blue Jays called and we worked it (the signing details) out.”

Encina established his college pitching credentials for UIW by sticking to a cardinal rule: He wanted to give hitters as few free passes as possible. Encina finished as the school’s all-time leader in walks per nine innings (1.60) and earned run average (2.70). Throwing strikes is a top priority Encina has carried with him. “If you throw strikes – even at the pro level – guys will get themselves out,” Encina said.

While that rule has stayed constant, his first year of pro ball has been a learning experience. Encina served as a starting pitcher for the Cardinals, but his initial taste of the pros included bullpen duty as a reliever. That learning process led to a handful of starting assignments. “Frankly, I didn’t do well at the beginning as a reliever and then I started picking it up,” Encina said. “They gave me four or five starts. The coaches were great up there and they helped me make a couple of adjustments.”

As a rookie with the Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalachian League in West Virginia, Encina had a 1-3 record with a save and a 3.86 ERA in 13 games (five starts). The Bluefield Blue Jays, a minor league baseball team of the Rookie Appalachian League representing the twin cities of Bluefield, West Virginia, and Bluefield, Virginia, are affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays. One area where Encina pleasantly surprised himself was his strikeout rate. He fanned 45 batters in 44.1 innings.

Encina’s next goal is to be assigned to a minor-league team for a full season of roughly 150 games. As part of his signing agreement with Toronto, the Blue Jays organization will cover the financial cost of his last couple of semesters’ worth of courses as a communication arts major, which Encina plans to finish at UIW.

Although Encina’s journey has taken him far from San Antonio, he still sees some friends and former foes from the Southland Conference. “I definitely enjoyed the competition we faced at Incarnate Word and Head Coach (Danny) Heep and the assistant coaches helped prepare me for this,” Encina said. “We played good schools and playing with or against those guys now, I thought I faced great competition.”

By Brian Hudgins