For better or worse, after Alcides Escobar got even a snippet of exposure with the big club at the tail end of the season, J.J. Hardy’s days as the Brewers starting shortstop were numbered; not surprisingly, the Brewers dealt him in a 1-for-1 swap for CF Carlos Gomez to address another need. To their credit, they likely reaped solid value for Hardy in a position where they could’ve been bent over backwards. That said, I wouldn’t say I’m exactly sold on Escobar’s skills entering the 2010 season.
In his 134 AB spree at the end of the season last year, Escobar hit an impressive but empty .303 (.333 OBP, .368 SLG). He stole 4 bases, walked 3% of the time and made contact at a pretty solid clip (14.3% K Rate, according to http://fangraphs.com). His rosiest projection, from the Marcel system, projects .290/.347/.421, though I think that’s pushing it quite a bit. I’d say I’m most comfortable with the CHONE projection of .291/.334/.398. The plus is that most systems see him as having better than a 3% walk rate next season while maintaing a stable 15% strikeout rate.
Why am I tepid in my enthusiasm with Escobar, then, given that all projections look like a solid baseline for success in the future? Well, for one, he’s never OPS’d .800 at any of his minor league stints. He’s never had a walk rate over 7%. He’s never had an isolated power over .112. How much room for growth is there really with Alcides? I think there’s some room to grow with his walk rate as it has improved in 2008 and 2009 over his career numbers (at least in the minors). His small, wiry frame doesn’t produce much power, so I think improving his slugging considerably is practically out the window.
Escobar’s calling card isn’t really his bat, though considering where he gets ranked in some prospect circles, it would be nice if it was a bit more impressive or reliable. His calling card is his glove, where he’s said to have excellent range, a strong arm and the penchant for making the spectacular play look routine. It better be really, really good, though, and it really wasn’t in his major league time last year. He finished with a -1.1 UZR (-4.8 in UZR/150), and fangraphs had him at just .3 wins above replacement on the season. CHONE sees him as a two win player this year, which is fine, but that’s not a difference maker. This isn’t to say that it won’t represent a solid move for the Brewers, as Carlos Gomez and Alcides Escobar should represent about 5 wins between them, mostly defensively, while CHONE projects J.J. Hardy to be worth just 2.3 wins above replacement this year. For a cost-conscious team, that’s nothing to scoff at.
…I just don’t know if it’s anything to be truly excited about, either. I don’t see Escobar having the skillset to match the 4.6 and 5 wins Hardy was worth in 2007 and 2008 before his down 2009, so I just can’t project Escobar really improving the Brewers much next season. Yeah, he’s a sexy name and an OK prospect, but the Brewers will need other places to step-up if they really want to see improvement in 2010.
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Written by Matthew Minton