Braves Center fielder Ender Inciarte Wins First Gold Glove

Major League Baseball’s awards season is officially underway as the Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were handed out on Tuesday night. Atlanta Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte captured the honor for the first time. He edged out Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton and the Philadelphia’s Odubel Herrera.

Nick Markakis was also a finalist in right field, but was beaten out for the award by former Brave Jason Heyward, who earned his third consecutive Gold Glove Award and fourth of his career.

Inciarte, who just turned 26, was a human highlight reel during his first season with Atlanta. With seemingly no ball hit out of his reach and a strong and accurate arm, Inciarte is fast building a reputation as a run-deterrent with opposing base runners. He led National League center fielders with 12 assists, among his 14 overall (two more as a left fielder). Those 14 assists ranked second only to Pittsburgh left fielder Starling Marte among the NL outfielders.

On the whole, the numbers strongly support Inciarte’s claim as the NL’s top center fielder. According to FanGraphs, he ranked among the top three among all NL outfielders with 15 defensive runs saved (3rd), a 13.4 ultimate zone rating (2nd), a 16.0 UZR/150 (3rd) and led the league with an 8.6 ARM (outfield arm runs, which is the amount of runs above average an outfielder saves with their arm by preventing runners from advancing).

While advanced metrics certainly smile on Inciarte, he also had a flair for the dramatic which helped him pass the eye test with flying colors. Inciarte’s incredible leaping catch in New York to deny Yoenis Cespedes of a game-winning home run on September 21 was one of the highlights of the season.

“I thought that ball was gone off the bat,” Inciarte told reporters afterwards, “but it was the last play of the game, so I was going to try for it. This is probably the best catch I’ve ever made. I was really pumped up. I caught the ball and I knew I had it, but the fans were waiting until I took it out of the glove.”

While that grab against the Mets may well be the crown jewel of Inciarte’s highlight reel for 2016, his heads-up decoy play on May 10 against the Phillies was another fine example of next-level instincts. Inciarte’s acting was so good that it not only fooled Carlos Ruiz on the basepaths, but also his fellow outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Nick Markakis. Inciarte circled under a shallow pop-fly in right center, motioned as though he’d lost it in the lights, then recovered immediately to catch the ball and double the veteran Ruiz off first base with a great throw.

It’s something you don’t see everyday. Check it out.

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Inciarte has fast established himself as one of the best outfielders in baseball over three years in the big leagues. He spent the first two patrolling all three spots for the Arizona Diamondbacks and bounced between center and left last year before ultimately settling in as Atlanta’s center fielder in late May. That’s a move that could pay off for years to come.

Grant McAuley covers the Braves and MLB for 92-9 The Game. You can subscribe to the “Around The Big Leagues” podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher. Follow Grant on Twitter.

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