This player preview was written by Eric Heckman, who posts here as eaheckman10.
On the surface, it seemed as though Escobar underperformed on the lofty expectations he set for himself with his spectacular debut in 2007. However, a closer look shows that Escobar lived up to the hype at the beginning of the season, and towards the end, while suffering a prolonged slump in the middle of the season. The start of this slump coincided with the release of fellow Cuban and best friend Brayan Pena. This seems to have affected his performance greatly. He did get hot again at the end of the year, despite being injured and playing sparingly, so hopefully this is all behind him.
- Yunel Escobar Opening Day to until Brayan Pena’s release….315/.386/.435
- Yunel Escobar for the next 54 games….246/.315/.321
- Yunel Escobar last 38 games…328/.427/.500
Yunel also needs to stay healthy for him to be fully effective. Not just playing in games, because he played in 136 of them, but playing them fully healthy. Escobar is by no means a middle of the order power hitter, but the shoulder injury probably sapped him of most of his power last year. If he plays the whole year healthy, he is capable of hitting 15 home runs.
Escobar’s main contribution to the team last year was not his bat, but rather his elite glove-work. He came in third place in the 2009 Fielding Bible awards, trailing only Jimmy Rollins and J.J. Hardy. He finished second in John Dewan’s +/- rating, trailing only Jimmy Rollins. He probably would have overtaken him if he would have played a full season. By any metric you use, Escobar was one of the best shortstops in baseball last year. He looks even better when compared to the statue in the field that was Edgar Renteria in 2007 -- yet another positive thing to say about that trade.
There are reports that Escobar has spent the offseason bulking up to hit for more power. If he does come to camp more bulked up, hopefully that extra bulk does not compromise his spectacular fielding for only a few extra home runs. If Escobar can add his offense of 2007 to his defense of this past year, we have an elite shortstop on our hands (if we don't already).
Yunel Escobar’s Keys to Success in 2009
- Health - It is a must that Escobar stays healthy. He needs to be playing, and he needs to be playing at full strength.
- Focus - It seems as if he got caught up in off-field distractions last year. If he can keep his mind on baseball, he can be one the top shortstops in the league.
- Maturity - He needs to keep moving away from the chatty and over hyper young player and towards a polished and poised professional.
Thanks to Eric for a great preview of our soon-to-be All-Star shortstop.