Minnesota Twins And The Good Problem of Eduardo Escobar

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In the midst of a horrendous 96 loss season in 2012, at the end of July, the Twins did about all they could do. They traded Francisco Liriano to the Chicago White Sox for Pedro Hernandez and Eduardo Escobar. The Twins were already out of contention and in an ‘acquire anything you can’ mode leading up to the trade deadline. Most Twins fans, including myself, were extremely disappointed in the first season back for GM Terry Ryan, who had mercifully returned to draw to a close the ill-fated Bill Smith era. Most Twins fans, again, including me, saw the Liriano trade as a throwaway.

Fast forward to spring 2015 and Twins fans are beginning to see that trade through a different lens. Liriano departed the White Sox and has established himself as a reliable mid to top of the rotation arm with the Pirates. Escobar meanwhile, has turned into an extremely useful role player for the Twins. Only, he isn’t really a role player, he has begun to demand more attention and respect than that.Â

Escobar’s first extended period of playing time came in 2014, initially as a utility infielder. Escobar went on to post a .275/.315/.406 line over 133 games and showed an impressive ability to drive the ball. Though Escobar struggled to keep a great OBP, largely due to an inability to walk, he finished 26th in the league in doubles with 35. This may sound unimpressive. Escobar however, amassed anywhere from 70 to 180 less plate appearances than most of the hitters above him. He finished the season with an XBH% of 9.3% (well above the league average of 7.4%) and a LD% (line drive%) of 27% (MLB average 21%).

With Twins manager Paul Molitor committed to playing Danny Santana at his natural position of SS, Escobar is left in a tenuous position in 2015. The Twins have a logjam of mediocrity in CF heading into 2015, with Aaron Hicks (perhaps surprisingly) sent back to AAA giving way to a place holding platoon of Jordan Schafer and feel good story Shane Robinson. With Torii Hunter and Oswaldo Arcia already locked into corner outfield spots, Escobar appears destined for the bench.

Although a poor predictor, spring training does not seem to have slowed Escobar, as he has a posted a line of .300/.294/.520 through March 30th with 3 HR and 14 RBI (he ripped another home run off Masahiro Tanaka on Tuesday against the Yankees)

A huge part of the Twins increased production in 2014 was the emergence of Danny Santana. Santana posted an absurd BABIP (batting average for balls in play) of .405 which should be unsustainable in 2015. For comparisons sake, Joe Mauer’s career BABIP is .348, with a career high of .383. Santana also takes a walk in only 4.4% of his plate appearances (19 last year). If Santana was even the league average (7.6%) he would have walked 33 times. Don’t be surprised if Santana struggles to replicate the impressive success of his rookie campaign. If this is the case I would not be surprised to see Escobar finding playing time at SS to spell Santana. Regardless of whether Escobar sees time in the infield or outfield for the Twins in 2015, having a bench bat like him is the kind of problem you want to have.

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