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  • Escobar Impressing at SS

    From the beginning, there was never really any doubt that Eduardo Escobar was going to make the 25-man roster out of spring training. The intriguing young infield talent is out of options and the Twins, short on infield help, were not going to let him slip away.

    That hasn't stopped the 25-year-old from going out and playing like he's trying to win a job. And that he might.

    After delivering a key two-run single in the seventh inning of Sunday's exhibition match-up against Miami, Escobar is batting .333 this spring, with three extra-base hits in 24 at-bats.

    Meanwhile, the players he's competing with have lagged behind. Jason Bartlett is hitless in 23 at-bats and Doug Bernier is hitting .200 in limited playing time. Escobar has easily cemented himself as the top candidate for a backup infield gig, and he may be playing his way toward a potential starting assignment out of the gates.

    Pedro Florimon has been easing into action in minor-league games after missing a couple weeks due to an emergency appendectomy. He's viewed as the favorite to start at shortstop but his hold on that job is tenuous at best since he hasn't shown much with the bat in the past.

    Escobar hasn't proven to be a superior hitter in the majors, but he also hasn't had the chance to settle into a regular position.

    Last year, after being demoted from the Twins with a .214 average in July, he hit .307/.380/.500 in 43 games at Rochester, and then batted .324 after returning to the majors as a September call-up. So his momentum stretches back beyond the nice spring he's enjoying.

    Florimon is expected to return to the Twins' lineup Monday. If he looks sharp in the field and decent at the plate over these next couple weeks he'll probably be the club's starting shortstop in Chicago on March 31st. Ron Gardenhire seems committed to getting a long look at the athletic defensive whiz, and Escobar's defensive versatility makes him more attractive as a utility man.

    But the Twins need offense and they know it. If Escobar proves himself to be the superior threat at the plate as March fades into April, he could very well knock Florimon from his precarious perch atop the depth chart.
    Comments 70 Comments
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jim H View Post
      I think that Florimon is the starting SS because he has a lot more tools in his tool shed than Escobar does. That doesn't mean that ultimately Escobar won't be the starting shortstop, just that Florimon could be/should be better because he has better tools. He is bigger, stronger, faster, has a better arm and has really good instincts for the shortstop position. His inconsistency defensively, i.e. bungling too many easy plays, mitigates some of that. His inability to make contact and his unwillingness to take walks, short change his offensive tools. But, his tools is what is giving him the chance to be the Twins starting shortstop.

      Not all toolsy players realize their potential. Joe Benson is a good example of that, and there are many others. But, Florimon is pretty close. Defensively, he is very close. I don't believe he is elite as some have stated. But, he is very good, and could get a little better. I don't think he will ever realize his offensive potential, but if he gets even a little bit better combined with his defense, well, you can see why he is getting his chance ahead of Escobar. If Escobar becomes the starter at short, he is really the definition of placeholder. Just like a Punto, you are constantly looking for someone better.
      Excellent post overall, with the exception that I honestly think that, sadly, Florimon has already reached his offensive potential. There's a reason why he toiled in the minors for 8 years and was available for free on the waiver wire.

      And the one "tool" that Escobar apparently has over Florimon is the ability to play multiple positions at a reasonably competent level, and even as an emergency Catcher. Once Florimon is eligible for Arb in 2016, his "value" will be closely tied with how much and how many teams are willing to play a no-hit, one-position player, near the age of 30, for Millions of Dollars/Year.
    1. tellis205's Avatar
      tellis205 -
      I've been watching the 1967 final game of the season between the Twins and the Red Sox on Youtube. You know the game that decided the American League Pennant for that year. It was interesting to see Zoilo Versalles was hitting .201 for the year in which he had over 600 at bats. You might remember that Zoilo was the 1965 American League MVP. Strong defensive shortstop and fondly remembered by many of the old timers in Minnesota. Career .242 hitter. Now that team had a few more great hitters and pitchers however there was no DH yet. I've been hearing we've got a few great hitters about to enter the scene here shortly. Maybe you see where I'm going with this. Mr. Florimon is a strong defensive shortstop who who will be adequate at the plate. Teams need to be strong up the middle to succeed. He gives us that chance.
    1. Deduno Abides's Avatar
      Deduno Abides -
      Quote Originally Posted by Riverbrian View Post

      I think the Twins value defense at the SS and C positions.
      Agreed that the Twins value defense at SS, until such time they try to put someone like Michael Cuddyer at the position in order to squeeze in an extra bat. To my memory, (thankfully?) that happened at 2B, not SS.

      However, the issue isn't whether the Twins value defense at SS, but how well they assess defense. In the not distant past, J.J. Hardy was considered insufficient at the position, but since being traded away he has won the past two Golden Glove awards. To add self-inflicted damage to self-inflicted damage, we all remember and don't miss the defensive quality of Hardy's chosen replacement.

      Regarding Florimon, sometimes he "looks" like he could hit better. Good athlete, good speed, calm demeanor. Not sure exactly why he can't get two or three better at-bats each week. Also, regarding his defense, although we can argue whether or not the word "elite" is the appropriate semantics, there is not a reasonable argument against the assertion that he is one of the best in the league. I agree with other comments that he and Dozier had a good year last year. Also, if a team gets better offensive performance out of its corner infielders and outfielders, it actually can be a playoff team with a SS of Florimon's defensive caliber. Look at the Orioles when Mark Belanger was their SS. Sure, it would be great to have Troy Tulowitzki, but playing Florimon is not what holds back this team.

      Regarding Escobar, it appears he has potential to be better than Denny Hocking, Matt Tolbert and other scrappers that have received hundreds of ABs per year for the Twins. He can be a good UT and spot starter, and he, Florimon and Dozier may allow the Twins to focus their attention on other positions for improvement. If Santana gets it together, all the better.
    1. OldManWinter's Avatar
      OldManWinter -
      We could cut Twins management some slack for selecting and developing players. Consider the numbers of prime talent that does not get to MLB and we know the path is not smooth or direct. It is a crap shoot and there needs to be good luck for a prospect to succeed. And there cannot be any bad luck along the way.

      The Twins were doing well for many years. Then they experienced a great deal of bad luck with plays like the one that caused Morneau's injury.

      Making the transition from the Dome to Target Field requires players with a different skill set. The Dome advantage no longer exists. I think among other things the Twins are finding their way and the going is slower than we all hoped.

      Patience needed, but it is in short supply.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by tellis205 View Post
      I've been watching the 1967 final game of the season between the Twins and the Red Sox on Youtube. You know the game that decided the American League Pennant for that year. It was interesting to see Zoilo Versalles was hitting .201 for the year in which he had over 600 at bats. You might remember that Zoilo was the 1965 American League MVP. Strong defensive shortstop and fondly remembered by many of the old timers in Minnesota. Career .242 hitter. Now that team had a few more great hitters and pitchers however there was no DH yet. I've been hearing we've got a few great hitters about to enter the scene here shortly. Maybe you see where I'm going with this. Mr. Florimon is a strong defensive shortstop who who will be adequate at the plate. Teams need to be strong up the middle to succeed. He gives us that chance.
      1967 was also Versalles' last season with the Twins, and last season as a regular big league SS. He played at all only 3 more seasons.

      Perhaps if he hadn't hit so poorly in 1967 the last series of the season would have been meaningless because the Twins would have locked up the pennant by then.

      As for Escobar, I don't like his chances of being an asset as a full time SS much more than Florimon's.
    1. highlander's Avatar
      highlander -
      Quote Originally Posted by troyhobbs View Post
      Florimon's D is very good but I think elite is using the term a bit loosely. I've never heard his name in a national conversation about the best defensive players in the game and I view he and Escobar as pretty much the same player.
      I really like Florimon's leather also. What the limited scope of the "national" thinks is irrelevant, it's what Gardy and the brass think. Love Escobars versatility.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Quote Originally Posted by Riverbrian View Post
      If all this is true and it is... Why would the Twins hand him the job for the 2nd year in a row if he was also an average non elite defensive SS... They wouldn't and this can't be argued.

      If anyone believes that the Twins would field a bad bat at SS who is also just a simple decent defensive SS and at a somewhat advanced age. It would explain why some think we have a clueless front office.

      You can argue how our front office ranks in comparison to the other front offices in baseball... But... Can we not assume that they are not that clueless. There are a bunch of lifelong baseball men employed by the organization.

      If Florimon wasn't considered elite Defensively. The Twins would have given Escobar or Bartlett the job already. They would have signed Drew or Peralta or Anyone because his bat isn't up to snuff.
      Brian, while I get your point, I would be very careful with this "appeal to authority" line of reasoning. You could apply it to basically all of the Twins moves and suppress all argument, if you wanted. Would quickly run this board out of business.

      Besides, I think it's quite possible (in fact likely) from your evidence that the Twins don't consider Florimon "elite" but simply slightly above average defensively. But, combined with his cheap price tag, above-Butera level bat, lack of affordable alternatives, and our non-contending status, they think he's the best man for the job right now. And that's not unreasonable.

      Quote Originally Posted by Riverbrian View Post
      There are weak hitting SS's all over the place. It's because teams want defense at the position. If you are not up to snuff... They move you to 2B, 3B or the OF.
      Is it because teams are willing to tolerate bad hitting so they can get solid defense? Or is it because it's harder to hit at the MLB level than it is to field at the MLB level?

      Remember, replacement level for the bat is pretty low, but for fielding it's actually rather high (average). I think it would be relatively easy to find a freely available player who could be an average MLB defensive SS -- not as easy as other defensive positions, of course. But much, much easier than finding an average bat. Such a theoretical player would probably be about pitcher-level with the bat, however, which is how Florimon derives value even while being "below replacement" with the stick.
    1. spycake's Avatar
      spycake -
      Also, over at Fangraphs, the spread of team shortstop offensive WAR last year was 56 runs (+18 to -38). For defensive WAR, it was 43.1 WAR, and about a quarter of that was just Simmons. Throw him out of the equation, and the defensive spread was only 32 runs.

      And that might understate the difference, since those are team totals and backups are likely pulling those offensive numbers down more than the defensive numbers. (Although the reverse might be true for the present day Twins )

      This suggests the spread of defensive talent is much narrower than the spread of offensive talent. Which lowers Florimon's value compared to his hypothetical mirror image (a solid bat and below replacement glove player), although it does not mean Florimon is without worth, of course.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Great post spycake.
    1. LaBombo's Avatar
      LaBombo -
      Quote Originally Posted by spycake View Post
      This suggests the spread of defensive talent is much narrower than the spread of offensive talent. Which lowers Florimon's value compared to his hypothetical mirror image (a solid bat and below replacement glove player), although it does not mean Florimon is without worth, of course.
      Good stuff, and I think this is true of middle defense in general. C/SS/2b/CF is important, and therefore more scrutinized and agonized over if it's perceived as below average.

      But mostly if you're well below average defensively at one of those positions, you simply don't get to play there. You slide down the defensive spectrum to an IF or OF corner. If you can hit, eventually a team (especially NL) will find a corner for you where they can live with your defense to keep your bat in the lineup.

      The end result is probably that you generally don't get the shortstop equivalent of Delmon Young. That would mean that while middle defense is still important, being better than average defensively in those positions is less valuable than being above average offensively. Eyeballing the differentials, the Off/Def Fangraphs splits for those positions tend to reflect that.
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