As the 2016 Major League Baseball season kicked off, there were plenty of different narratives for this version of the Minnesota Twins. Questions about the bullpen and youth were present, but there was one position that was absolutely cemented in. Paul Molitor had no doubts about who his shortstop was going to be this season, Eduardo Escobar had taken care of those questions.
Prior to the 2015 season, Escobar was locked into a competition with Danny Santana as to who would take over as the Twins starting shortstop. There was plenty of reason to believe in Santana's capabilities, and I was among that group. What Escobar did during the 2015 season however, was more than deserving enough on its own, and coupled with how horrid Santana was, it became apparent who the Twins best shortstop was.
What Escobar did was nothing short of eye-opening. From the All Star Break on, Eduardo slashed .269/.330/.486 while clobbering eight homer runs, contributing 19 doubles, and driving in 29 runs. On the year, Escobar slugged .445, which (had he qualified) would have ranked second among all major league shortstops not named Brandon Crawford. His 1.5 fWAR put him on par with the Royals Alcides Escobar, who played in 21 more games than the Twins shortstop. By all of his own measures, Eduardo Escobar had emerged.
Despite contributing a 2.4 fWAR in 2013, Escobar was pushed to a utility type role in favor of Santana out of the gate a season ago. Danny Santana turning in 16 errors and being worth -15 DRS while earning a -8.0 UZR was the perfect storm to open the door for Escobar. As the offensive production poured on, the Venezuelan slammed the door on any questions about who would play short for the Twins going forward.
For most of the 2015 season, Escobar's production was met with some level of hesitation. It had become a wait and see type scenario, in which the bottom could potentially fall out at any point. The resounding fact however, is that the time never came. Instead, Escobar produced on offense while making just four errors in 71 starts at shortstop. He was worth 2 DRS and posted a drastic improvement (2.6 UZR) over Santana in range factor. He had taken his opportunity and run with it.
At just 27 years old, and heading into his third full big league season, Escobar has become the Twins present and their immediate future. Minnesota does not have anything on the near horizon at shortstop (sorry Jorge Polanco, but 28 E in 102 G isn't going to work), and Eduardo has long passed the point of needing to look over his shoulder. Top prospect Nick Gordon will continue his rise through the system, and Wander Javier is not far behind him, but neither are legitimate threats to the Twins guy right now.
Having seen the emergence and production develop, the Twins can be thankful to have their first legitimate shortstop in quite some time. As Minnesota returns to relevancy, Eduardo Escobar will be a big part of the equation. It may be tough to watch Francisco Liriano continue to dominate in his career, but the move was necessary at the time, and is now paying dividends for the home team as well.