Not a Rookie: Yunel Escobar
Yunel Escobar was drafted by the Braves in the second round in 2005. A Cuban defector, he became eligible for the draft about a month before draft day, and showed enough in workouts to earn his spot. Scouts were very high on his athleticism and defensive skills, though there was mixed opinion about how his bat would pan out. He hit .325/.378/.504 in his pro debut, eight games for Danville in the Appy League and 48 contests for Rome in the Sally League, showing more pop than expected. The main concern was age: he turned 23 that November, officially anyway. I gave him a Grade B in the '06 book, noting his strong performance early-on but warning people to treat him as equal to a college senior coming out of the draft.
The Braves moved Escobar directly to Double-A in 2006 to find out how good his bat was. He scuffled for Mississippi in the Southern League, hitting .263/.361/.346. He showed very little power. However, he controlled the strike zone well, and hit very well in the Arizona Fall League. He impressed with his arm strength, though some scouts said his range was too limited for shortstop. I lowered his grade a notch to Grade B-, somewhat concerned about the bat, but not giving up yet.
Escobar got off to a great start in Triple-A last year, hitting .333/.379/.456 in 46 games for Richmond. Promoted to Atlanta, he continued the hot hitting with a .326/.385/.461 mark, with 25 doubles. What does his future hold?
He's versatile defensively, able to play anywhere you ask and featuring a strong arm, but for all his glove-man reputation when drafted, the defensive metrics aren't wild about him, rating him as quite below average in the range department. The bat, on the other hand, obviously turned out better than expected last year. Is this sustainable?
I'm with Shandler on this one, I think he was somewhat over his head last year and will regress towards the mean. I think that his batting average is probably going to be more in the .270-.285 range most seasons, with some spikes higher than that at times when he's hot. Last year was the top end of what I would expect. He won't hit a ton of homers, but should contribute some doubles. Basically I think the .326/.385/.461 mark is not something we will see more of, not in a 500 at-bat season. Not that he will be a BAD player. But if his range is too limited at shortstop, in the long run he will end up being more valuable as a utility player with a decent bat.
My thinking is that he will struggle at times in '08, maintaining a decent batting average/OBP but not showing as much pop as last year. I could be dead wrong, of course. He hit very well in August and September, over .300 both months with 15 doubles and four homers in 46 games. Precursor of things to come? We will see.