Thursday, March 26, 2015

Twins Cash Check Formerly Known As Francisco Liriano

Twins infielder Eduardo Escobar hits a single against Tampa Bay pitcher Brandon Gomes in the fifth inning. (Pioneer Press: John Autey)
In 2006, the Minnesota Twins sported a rookie pitcher that ended up bursting onto the scene and making an All Star appearance. With a devastating slider and blistering fastball, Francisco Liriano flew under the radar for a very small period of time. Unfortunately, the excitement wouldn't last, as injury would take away his 2007 and part of his 2008 season. Fast forward to 2012 and the Twins had watched what once was an undoubted ace, turn into an up and down starter that was fueled only by his own doubt. Going nowhere fast, the Twins decided to flip Liriano to the Chicago White Sox midseason, and that's where this all begins.

An afterthought prospect, Eduardo Escobar, was all the Twins could get in return for their starter who owned a 5.31 ERA at the time of his departure. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2006, Escobar broke into the big leagues with the White Sox in 2011. Playing in just nine games, it wasn't until 2012 that Escobar got some regular playing time at the big league level. Over his first two seasons as a Twin, Escobar played in just 80 games for the club. Even while possessing a seemingly low ceiling, the returns didn't warrant opportunity even on a team losing 90 games.

Last season however, things changed for Escobar and the Twins. Over the course of 133 games, Minnesota employed Escobar as a utility man. He played all over the field, logging time at five different positions not including designated hitter. The bulk of his run came at shortstop, but Escobar had become the Twins every day utility man. On top of being versatile in the field, Escobar mocked his career .255/.300/.365 line by slashing .275/.315/.406. His six home runs and 37 RBI were important additions from a player not necessarily synonymous with those statistics. Looking around a room of baseball experts, you'd be hard pressed to find someone willing to bet on the Venezuelan infielder continuing his run.

Now through 11 spring training games, Escobar appears poised to pick up right where he left off in 2015. He has hit two home runs, driven in 13 runs, and is slashing .333/.333/.528. Looking through the leaders in the Grapefruit League, only the Miami Marlins Michael Morse has plated more runners. Although the strikeout to walk totals aren't where the Twins would necessarily like them to be, Escobar has also looked to have an improved focus at the plate.

As the Twins head north, Escobar will once again be in his standard role. Despite competing for the starting shortstop position, Minnesota stands much more to gain by employing him all over the diamond. It would seem that gone are the days of Twins subbing in defensive only utility men. Escobar has the ability to both hit and field, and he has shown that he can be an asset to the club in both categories.

With spring training statistics being what they are, it's unfair to draw too many conclusions from the early performance. Having no history to go off of, 2015 is Escobar's chance to prove that the offensive prowess wasn't a fluke. No matter what though, the Twins are ready to cash the check they received for Liriano, and Eduardo Escobar is putting it together at the best possible time.