We're all pretty aware of how hot Eduardo Escobar has been over the last few weeks. Even after the All-Star break he'd streaked hot and cold, taking a .239/.270/.380 triple slash into play on August 5. Since then, however, he's been streaking in just one direction: up.
Since August 5, Escobar has hit .312/.370/.584 in 37 games. That includes seven of his 11 home runs this year, not to mention 12 of his 18 walks and just 18 of his 74 strikeouts. It's not that Escobar has just hit a hot streak here, which of course he has; he's completely turned his season on its head. He's striking out less, he's walking more, and in spite of playing everyday opposing pitchers haven't been able to expose him. Escobar's slugging .451 this season, which is fifth in baseball among shortstops with at least 350 plate appearances.
Throughout his minor league career, Escobar didn't hit a great deal. As a defense-first prospect his bat was never considered as a tool upon which his development might hinge, and the White Sox promoted him regularly regardless of his numbers as a hitter. As a 20-year old in Single-A he batted .256/.300/.328, with just 29 walks in 514 plate appearances, yet he was still moved up the following season. He occasionally displayed fair contact skills, but the walk rates were inconsistent and he never hit for power.
Chicago clearly thought they had something though, sending him to the AFL in 2010 as a 21-year old. He raked. It was enough for Baseball Prospectus to rank him #91 among baseball's top 100 prospects. The White Sox promoted him again, to Triple-A this time, as a 22-year old. He didn't fare too well, hitting .266/.303/.354 before a promotion to Chicago. It didn't look like the hit tool was developing, but if Escobar could be a plus defender at shortstop a .657 OPS would have been just fine out of the nine-hole.
Eduardo Escobar comes to Minnesota
Eduardo Escobar comes to Minnesota
When the Twins picked up Escobar as one half of the Francisco Liriano trade in 2011, he wasn't really viewed as a long-term asset. He was considered a marginal prospect who could, perhaps, be a good defensive utility player off the bench if things went well. But other than perhaps forgiving Escobar just a bit for being young for his competition and for being promoted somewhat aggressively, there was very little in his history that indicated he would be able to hit - and certainly not for power.
Yet after hitting .228/.280/.307 through his first 125 games, Escobar found himself in a situation last year where he was getting regular playing time. In 133 games he hit .275/.315/.406 with 35 doubles. It wasn't outstanding, but it was better than the Major League average of .255/.310/.367 for a shortstop.
Propping up Escobar's 2014 triple slash were his splits. He was still sub-par versus right-handers, posting a .654 OPS in 328 plate appearances. Versus lefties, however, he was a beast with an .877 OPS in 137 plate appearances. Paul Molitor was well aware of those splits early in 2015, starting Escobar 13 times against the first 20 left-handed starters the Twins faced in spite of his slow start.
Those splits have evened out a little more this season, with a .745 OPS versus right-handers and a much more human .780 OPS versus southpaws. For a player whose splits have always been stronger versus lefties, it has to be asked: are the balanced splits in 2015 the sign of a maturing player, or a sample size issue?
How you choose to answer that question may very well make an impact on whether or not you think Eduardo Escobar is a long-term solution for the Minnesota Twins at shortstop. If you want to believe in development and maturity, you might be more inclined to get him under contract. If you believe in over a hundred years of statistical evidence, you probably want to wait.
For the patient among us, you'll be aware that Escobar will be arbitration-eligible for just the first time this winter. With three years of team control remaining, Minnesota is well situated to take the wait-and-see approach.
Part of the problem with discussing a potential extension for Escobar is that there's very little precedent for such a thing. J.J. Hardy, Yunel Escobar, and Ian Desmond all signed extensions in 2014, but for a number of reasons we can't use them as good comparisons (age, track record, production). Elvis Andrus' 2013 extension was for eight years, and we can all agree that Eduardo Escobar isn't exactly that kind of a player. In 2012 there are more options with no help: Asdrubal Cabrera was 26 but was also a two-time All-Star; Erick Aybar had had a couple of really good season for the Angels; Starlin Castro's seven-year deal was for a superstar in waiting who has yet to re-emerge; Elvis Andrus shows up again as a budding star.
And then there's Alcides Escobar, who might actually be the best possible comparison. On March 15, 2012, the Royals signed a then 25-year old Escobar to a four-year, $10.5 million contract. Those four years bought out not just his three arbitration-eligible seasons, but his final pre-arbitration year. Kansas City has two options available for him in 2016 and 2017, his first two years of free agent eligibility.
Up to the four-year extension, Alcides Escobar had played in 350 games and posted a triple slash of .252/.294/.339. He'd been a full-time player in the two seasons prior to the deal, and had accumulated 2.9 fWAR.
Compare that to Eduardo Escobar, who has hit .258/.302/.394 through his first 370 games. He's been almost a full-time player these last two seasons, and he enters arbitration for the first time this winter. He's accumulated 3.1 fWAR in his career to date, although he posted marks of 2.4 fWAR in 2014 and 1.1 fWAR so far in 2015.
My final caveat on this comparison is that Alcides Escobar was considered to be a pretty good prospect when he was coming up through the Brewers' farm system. He came to Kansas City with Lorenzo Cain, Jeremy Jeffress, and Jake Odorizzi in the Zack Greinke deal (we don't need to bring up Yuniesky Betancourt). Baseball America ranked Alcides Escobar the game's #19 prospect pre-2009, and the #12 prospect pre-2010.
Considering the comparison contract was signed three and a half years ago, a similar deal might be for three years at the same amount of $10.5 million for Eduardo Escobar. That would buy out his arbitration seasons, and then the Twins could include an option or two on his free agent years.
Knowing what you know about our shortstop, would you be in favor of this kind of extension? Or should Minnesota wait another year to see what happens?