One of the best Twins so far, Eduardo Escobar is enjoying the wave
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MINNEAPOLIS - These days there are a lot more smiles than tears for Eduardo Escobar. It wasn't always that way for 25-year-old from Venezuela.
Escobar drove in a pair of runs with a 2-RBI double in the second inning, which at the time put him just two doubles behind Miguel Cabrera for the American League lead in doubles, and tied him with Trevor Plouffe for the Twins lead. Escobar also worked a one-out walk in the ninth inning, and was leading off second base when Brian Dozier lifted a soft line drive over the head of shortstop Alexei Ramirez. Escobar bolted for third and rounded for home as the left fielder made a strong throw to the plate. Escobar evaded a potential tag with his slide and the Twins jumped around the infield celebrating their walk-off victory over the division rival. Escobar was happy.
How did he get to this point? And will it continue?
He signed with the Sox organization in 2008 as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela when he was 16 years old. He spent years working his way up the minor league ladder, hoping to one day make it to Chicago's south side. Then, on July 29, 2012, Chicago sent him to Minnesota with Pedro Hernandez in the Francisco Liriano trade. The Twins then sent him to Triple-A Rochester.
"When they traded me, I remember that my last game was in Texas," Escobar said. "It was a very good game. [Manager Robin Ventura] called me into his office. 'Escobar, you've been traded to Minnesota.'"
"So I cried. I [spent] one week crying because all my career I was playing with the White Sox. I don't know what happened."
It probably didn't help that he went from part-time Major Leaguer back to riding buses in the minor leagues. There's not really any way to soften that blow. A common refrain among players is that it's hard to come to grips with the first time getting dealt, especially if you're young, but once you age and mature professionally it becomes clearer that baseball at this level is, first and foremost, a business. Escobar said it took about two weeks of counseling from his mom and close friends for him to realize it could work out for the better.
"But I'm fine now, I'm happy I get to play every day," Escobar said over the weekend.
"Robin told me I've got a great opportunity over there [with the Twins] and I knew that I wasn't starting [every day with Chicago]," Escobar said. "You go over there and get a chance to play every day."
White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing coached and managed Escobar at several stops on the minor league ladder, as each man worked his way toward the big leagues. Escobar said he considers McEwing a father figure.
"To see the maturity process that he went through from day one of A-ball, then telling him he was going to Double-A for the first time and then managing him at Triple-A the year later, continue to grow and get better every day and then to tell him he was going to the big leagues for the first time-it's a pretty special feeling," McEwing said.
Even though Escobar wasn't particularly productive at the time of the Liriano trade, McEwing said it was a tough loss for the club. The tell-tale sign, he said, was the first time the Twins played the White Sox after the trade. Escobar walked through Chicago's pregame stretch to greet his old teammates, and every one of them shook his hand or gave him a hug, McEwing said.
"That's the impact he had on a lot of people," McEwing said. "When we traded him, it was tough for our club, tough for our organization. It was like we lost one of our kids."
Solid 2014 production
The Twins have been short on quality middle infield prospects in recent years, meaning there was on opportunity for Escobar to play. He's been quietly terrific this season for the Twins, batting .299/.347/.451 and playing mostly shortstop and third base. Escobar has been Minnesota's second best player, according to FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement. Baseball Reference calculates the fielding component of WAR slightly differently, and that measure rates him as the sixth best position player on the Twins. Still, not bad for a guy making a half-million bucks who could be under team control for four more seasons.
Escobar will be fairly close to the 'Super 2' cutoff point, meaning he could be due for an extra year of arbitration raises, as Jesse Lund pointed out on the Twinkie Town blog. It will be hard to tell if for certain he'll qualify until later in the season. That means he could be a little more expensive over his six years of team control.
His fielding hasn't hurt the Twins-whether he's played shortstop for Danny Santana to go to center field, or, more recently, filled in at third base when Trevor Plouffe hit the disabled list. His strong arm is an asset at either position.
He's made the "hustle double" a part of his repertoire.
"When I'm swinging hard, swinging good, my first thinking is go hustle to second base," Escobar said with a big smile. "When the ball is on the line I have a chance [at second] if I hustle."
Will it continue?
And that's part of the question with Escobar. Is his production smoke and mirrors? He was not on the radar for many fans before this season as anything beyond a bench player. It's nice he can hit on either foul line and turn it into a double based on his speed. But is that a skill that can continue or is some of it luck?
His minor league track record suggests his ceiling probably is that of a Major League utility infielder, players who typically wind up on the bench. He's having a great season for the Twins and has quietly been one of their best players.
Although he's been a pleasant surprise for the Twins, it's unlikely he'll continue his current performance. It's impressive to maintain that for 200 plate appearances like Escobar has, but the Twins should be wary of his strikeout-to-walk ratio. He strikes out three times as often as he walks, which is Pedro Florimon and Jason Kubel territory. For that statistically-inclined, his batting average on balls in play (.369) probably is due for some regression, too. Only Danny Santana (.398) has a higher BABIP among Twins regulars, and it's 90 points higher than his 2013 BABIP. He's hitting a few more line drives this season and because of his speed, he probably can sustain a higher BABIP than the league average. But I'd expect that rate to come down, which would hurt his overall numbers.
Some of that regression already has started. In his past 100 plate apperances, Escobar is hitting .242/.303/.352, more in line with his career numbers.
Making the most
Escobar mentioned that part of the reason he was surprised to be traded was that his final game with the White Sox had been a good one. Indeed, he played shortstop and batted leadoff and went 2-for-5 with an RBI against the Rangers. But at that time he was batting just .207/.281/.276 and looked an awful lot like a utility infielder.
He talked a lot about opportunities in a conversation over the weekend. For now, he's enjoying the ride with the Twins. Escobar is engaged to be married.
"I'm very, very happy because the coaches, Terry [Ryan]--I've got the opportunity to play every day," Escobar said.
He added that he hasn't talked with the front office about his future, whether they view him as a shortstop, a third baseman or a utility infielder and bench player. Each day Ron Gardenhire pencils his name into the lineup is a chance to showcase what got him here. That, for now, is good enough for Escobar; reason enough to smile.