Former Encinitas Little Leaguer Ethan Workinger signs with the Atlanta Braves

Encinitas' Ethan Workinger signs with the Atlanta Braves.

When he was a kid, Ethan “EQ” Workinger was hitting dingers into the skate park in Encinitas Little League. As of last week he is now a professional baseball player who has a chance to go long at Truist Park as a member of the Atlanta Braves. The 6’3, 18-year-old outfielder from Encinitas signed as an undrafted free agent with the Braves on June 22.

After the shortened Major League Baseball draft in June, Workinger got a 6 a.m. phone call that the Braves had a contract for him. After missing out on being drafted as a 17-year-old last year, he and his family were understandably “super stoked.”

“I’ve been dreaming about this moment since I was a kid,” Workinger said. “It’s a feeling that you just can’t describe.”

Workinger took a slightly unusual route to the big show as he never played junior varsity or varsity high school baseball. He went to La Costa Canyon High School for two years before transitioning to online school California Connections Academy so he could focus on baseball.

Scouts started showing up to check out Workinger during his senior year while he was playing for an Orange County travel ball team. When he wasn’t drafted last year, he started playing in a summer league, drawing big attention when he registered the top exit velocity during a Perfect Game showcase staged in Irvine.

Workinger said the Braves were a team that showed interest in him since the start, saying they loved his style of play. His speed, power-hitting and strong athletic build come up frequently in his scouting notes.

An alumni of Olivenhain Pioneer and Diegueno Middle School, Workinger’s baseball career began with Encinitas Little League t-ball when he was just four and a half years old. He became an All Star and was part of the ELL World Series team that played for the Western Regionals in San Bernardino and the ELL Juniors team that went to Western Regionals in Vancouver. Hitting homeruns on ESPN at the age of 12 is something he will always remember.

After spending last summer playing in the San Diego League, he followed Coach Chris Brown to play for San Diego City College. He suffered a setback in the fall when a staph infection landed him in the hospital—he had to have surgery to clean out his knee and missed all of fall ball but was able to come back strong for his freshman spring.

Workinger was playing for the San Diego City College Knights and was hitting .387 when the season was cut short due to the pandemic. In 19 games he led the Knights with 29 hits, five triples, and 24 RBI while playing the designated hitter and outfield positions.

“It was a pleasure recruiting and having Ethan as part of the Knights family,” said Coach Brown in a release. “He solidified our offense with speed and power, and was a main contributor at the plate and responsible for much of our success last year.

“He is a five-tool player and we will definitely miss him in our lineup this coming season. Being one of only six players signed as a free agent with Atlanta, he is in a unique situation that I feel will provide him an excellent opportunity to advance through the minor league system.”

One of Workinger’s best friends Garrett Frechette (a Vista resident who attended Cathedral Catholic High School) is a minor leaguer in the San Francisco Giants system and has given him some advice about what he can expect when he is eventually called to join the Braves’ minor league system.

In addition to filling him in about the lifestyle of a minor league baseball player—Frechette has prepped him about the level of competition he will face against other talented rookies and top Latin American players. “You have to compete out there against those guys and it’s hard,” Workinger said.

During quarantine, Workinger has been keeping busy lifting, playing catch and hitting a lot, working on his velocity at the batting cages and hitting with his former little league coach and former MLB player Reed Johnson up in Temecula.

“I’m staying active as much as I can, I try to work out every single day to be ready to go when I go out there,” Workinger said.

There is a lot of uncertainty about when he might be called to join the Braves organization due to the pandemic. While Major League Baseball is expected to return on July 23 with an abbreviated season, Minor League Baseball announced this week that there will not be a season this year, the first time it has been canceled since the league was founded in 1901. There is a possibility for prospects like Workinger to participate in instructional, fall or winter leagues this year.

Though it was disappointing to not be drafted last year, Workinger’s mother Rachel said the growth he experienced over the last year was worth it. He was able to stay home for one more year and to become an Eagle Scout—she is proud that all five of her sons have become Eagle Scouts in Encinitas.

“I feel like he was able to tie up all the loose ends and become much more mature physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually,” Rachel Workinger said. “I am super proud of his hard work and diligence and that’s the only way he was able to become the young amazing professional athlete he just became.”