Friday, February 26, 2016

The Reality Of Escobar

It's become a point of contention in some circles that the Minnesota Twins may not have a level of certainty at the shortstop position. Unfortunately, that notion couldn't be further from the truth, at least for the time being. Going into 2016, there's no doubt Eduardo Escobar has earned the right to start every day, and the expectation should be that he'll succeed.

Way back when, I touched on the Twins continuing to benefit from the trade that sent Francisco Liriano to the Chicago White Sox. Escobar was the return, and it relatively early on it appeared to be a good one. Over the course of the last season however, that return looked great.

Going into the 2015 season, Escobar was the utility man looked at as a secondary option for arguably the infield's most pivotal position. After Danny Santana looked the part of a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2014, he was going to be given every opportunity to start at short for first year manager Paul Molitor. You'd be hard pressed to find many that weren't ok with that decision. Santana looked prime for regression, but his new infield role was one he also seemed capable of taking over.

Then the season got underway.

It was always fair to assume that Santana was going to take a step back offensively. After owning a .405 BABIP in 2014, there was a less than zero chance he was going to put up the same kind of slash line (.319/.353/.472). What actually took place though was a level of regression that would be teetering on the brink of catastrophe.

Not only did Santana regress at the plate, he feel off completely. In 91 major league games during the 2015 season, Santana slashed a paltry .215/.241/.291. He took a grand total of six walks in over 260 at bats, and stuck out nearly 70 times. As bad as his offensive game was though, it wasn't even the real problem. At shortstop, Santana started 65 games and turned in 16 errors while being worth -15 DRS. By all statistical measures, Santana was one of the worst players in all of baseball at the position.

Enter Eduardo Escobar.

Following Santana's [prolonged] demotion, Escobar was given his opportunity. Fortunately for both Molitor and the Twins, he did everything he could with it. When the dust settled on 2015, Escobar owned a .262/.309/.445 slash line. He provided the Twins with 12 homers and doubled 31 times. His OPS was 4th best among shortstops, better than everyone not named Brandon Crawford, Tulo, or Bogaerts. In the final month of the season, Escobar only got more impressive slashing .280/.331/.486.

On the defensive side of the ball, Escobar provided an uptick as well. He ended up starting 71 games for the Twins a season ago, making just four errors. His 2 DRS and 2.6 UZR marks were some of the best posted by a Twins shortstop (and his complete game made him a significantly better fit than the defensive minded Pedro Florimon). Looking at his contributions as a whole, Escobar more than got the job done for Minnesota.

At points throughout 2015, it might have been fair to wonder whether or not the Twins would be in on free agent Ian Desmond (who still remains an unsigned FA after rejecting the Nationals qualifying offer). What became apparent as the months drew on however, is that the Twins had an internal option, and a relatively good one at that.

Despite having youth with promise at the shortstop position on the farm, both Nick Gordon and Wander Javier being representative of that, Escobar can make the role his for the time being. At just 27 years old, it appears Escobar would be a late-prime player, and someone the Twins can pencil in as they push towards playoff relevancy once again. Far more than simply a stopgap option, Escobar vaulted himself into the conversation as one of the big leagues most complete at a premium spot.

Never are the Twins going to see Escobar be a high on base guy, he simply doesn't walk enough. However, he makes a ton of contact, actually decreased his swing and miss tendencies a year ago, and doesn't chase all that often. His approach at the plate should be capable of repeating his 2015 performance, and a full season of that kind of production is only going to benefit the Twins.

Sure, Escobar isn't the flashy name that Troy Tulowtizki is, and he may never be another Xander Bogaerts, but asking the Twins to do better is telling them to replace someone that is already competing at a very high level. For the first time since [the thought of] J.J. Hardy, the Twins have the shortstop position figured out.

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