One of the most pleasant surprises of 2015 has been the performance of the Minnesota Twins. Even if they fail to capture a wild card spot, this season has surpassed any reasonable Twins fan’s expectations. A team that appeared to be in the midst of a full rebuild ended up as a legitimate playoff contender, and one of the unexpected bright spots is their largely unheralded super-utilityman, Eduardo Escobar.
The switch-hitting Escobar entered the year as a bench player for the Twins, one whose versatile glove could plug a number of holes. Case in point: In his first four defensive appearances in April, he played four different positions (2B, 3B, SS, LF). Through July 31, he had 27 starts in left field, 20 at shortstop, seven as the designated hitter, five at third base and two at second.
When the Twins traded for Kevin Jepsen on July 31, they finally optioned semi-regular shortstop Danny Santana — along with his .212/.236/.290 slash and poor defense — back to Triple-A, handing the starting job to Escobar. Since August 1, the 26-year-old has picked up 40 starts at short, with just one start at any other position (2B).
As the Twins go-to shortstop, Escobar has thrived at the plate. He’s hitting a blistering .297/.348/.547 since joining the everyday lineup, and has hit more home runs (7) in the span of that 161-PA stretch than he hit in his 465 PA last year (6). He’s the No. 4 SS over the last 30 days, behind only Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts and the resurgent Starlin Castro.
So, how has he done it? First off, this season he figured out how to hit right-handed pitching. Just take a look at his slash line against righties this year, compared to the rest of his career:
- pre 2015 – .232/.261/.320, .581 OPS
- 2015 – .255/.307/.428, .735 OPS
Prior to 2015, Escobar only did any damage against right-handers on pitches in one specific location. If it was in the low-inside corner of the zone, he had a chance. Otherwise, he was usually toast:
This year, his plate coverage has expanded considerably. He still likes the ball down, but if it’s in the zone anywhere below his belt, there’s a good chance he’s making solid contact:
Secondly, he’s developed power against off-speed pitches. Coming into the year, Escobar had spent his entire career struggling against offerings with vertical break. In his first 258 major-league games, he managed just four doubles and two home runs against curveballs and splitters.
Through July, Escobar had mustered just one extra-base hit (a double) against those two pitch types. In fact, he wasn’t hitting any non-fastball with authority. He produced 18 of his 22 extra-base hits against fastballs, and all four XBH against non-fastballs were doubles.
Since becoming the Twins’ everyday shortstop in August, he’s hit two homers and two doubles against curves and splitters. That’s an admittedly small sample, but in the last seven weeks, Escobar’s production against all types of offspeed and breaking pitches has included three dingers and six doubles. In other words, he’s got more than twice as many XBH against non-fastballs in the last seven weeks as he had in the season’s first four full months.
Escobar was never considered an elite prospect — he was No. 8 on Mark Hulet’s 2011 Top 15 Prospects list for a terrible White Sox system — and what prospect status he had was largely tied to his glove. Yet, this is the second straight year that his weighted offense has exceeded league average. This year, he’s shown solid progress at the plate against breaking pitches and right-handers — especially since earning the regular job at short — which has enabled him to transform himself into a double-digit home-run hitter.
I think Escobar may be a bit overlooked in drafts next year, simply because his season line — currently at .263/.303/.446 — isn’t nearly as impressive as what he’s done as a full-time shortstop. Additionally, it’s easy to call the double-digit homers a fluke — seeing as he never hit more than seven in any minor-league season — but his power has actually been in steady development ever since he came over to Minnesota in 2012’s Francisco Liriano trade.
He’s currently owned in 36 percent of Yahoo leagues, and I’d guess that’s about where his ownership rate will start off next year. His complete lack of base-stealing ability limits his fantasy value, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that he’s been an absolute force in the Twins lineup down the stretch.
I’m not saying he’ll ever be a .297/.348/.547 hitter for a full season, but the fact that he’s kept up that pace for nearly two months as a regular makes him an intriguing fringe mixed-league SS for 2016, and he’s already done enough to be an attractive sleeper for leagues with a MI slot.
Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.