Thursday, September 7, 2017

Contemplating Eduardo Escobar

I haven't noticed Dick Bremer yakking about "superutility" players nearly as often since the Twins cut Danny Santana loose earlier this year. It was a reflexive reaction from the TV play-by-play guy whenever Santana got on the field, which was way too often.

Bremer doesn't have the same reaction to Eduardo Escobar, which is

  • a blessing, because as far as I'm concerned, Bremer uses the term far too loosely; and
  • too bad, because Escobar is a better fit for the term than Santana ever was.

What is the difference between a utility player and a superutility player? Well, what is the difference between Ehire Adrianza and Ben Zobrist? Playing time. Zobrist can hit (or at least he has a well-established track record of hitting; he's not been nearly as productive this season); his managers -- largely Joe Maddon -- make a point of getting him in the lineup on a regular basis even if not at the same position every day.

Zobrist this year has started at three different positions (second base, left field, right field) nd picked up a few innings at two others (first base and shortstop). Adrianaza has started games at five different positions (short, third, second, left and first). But Zobrist has more than 400 plate appearances, Adrianza just cracked 150 on Wednesday.

Utility players are versatile. Superutility guys are regulars without a set position. Superutility guys hit well enough to get lots of at-bats in the top half of the lineup, and they field well enough to get some of their playing time at an up-the-middle position. But they don't field so well that the manager is going to just make him the every day centerfielder or shortstop.

Which brings us to Escobar. "Eddie the Stick," as the Star Tribune's LaVelle Neal often calls him on Twitter, hit cleanup Wednesday (and drove in three runs). He has compiled 400-plus plate appearances so far, getting starts at third base, shortstop, second base and even designated hitter, has set career high for homers and RBIs and is nearing a career high in runs scored.

Escobar is playing third a lot right now because Miguel Sano is sidelined, but Paul Molitor was finding ways to get him into the lineup frequently before that, often against lefties (the switch-hitter is hitting much better from the right side.) The only lineup slot he hasn't started in at least once is leadoff.

This is Escobar's third season of 400-plus plate appearances for the Twins; he has another with 377. That's not really superutility usage. But it's close.

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