Saturday, September 30, 2017

Miguel Sano, Eduardo Escobar, Robbie Grossman and the postseason roster

One thing we learned from Torii Hunter's occasional forays into the broadcast booth is that he calls Eduardo Escobar "Mighty Mouse."

Escobar helped save the day Friday night with a home run. He helped save the season with 21 homers, which is power output nobody expected when the Twins got him from the White Sox in exchange for Francisco Liriano in 2012.

Fifteen of those 21 homers have come while playing third base, which is supposed to be the property of Miguel Sano. (Three have come when at short, and three as the designated hitter.) Sano has had two lengthy stints on the disabled list, and Escobar has gotten the heavy majority of his playing time at third as a result.

Sano has hit 28 homers, 23 of them at third. So the Twins have gotten 38 homers from their third basemen, which basically sounds like Sano got a full season in there.

But only in terms of the power. Sano draws walks and Escobar does not. While their batting averages are similar, the Dominican has a far superior OBP to the Venezulean. Give credit to Escobar for producing in Sano's absence, but know that Sano is the more productive hitter.

Sano returned to the active roster Friday and got an at-bat late in the game, grounding out meekly to the pitcher. He's expected to get at least one start as the designated hitter in these final two games as he tries to wrangle his way onto the playoff roster.

If he does, he's not going to step back in at third base; there's no indication that his leg is ready to play the field. If Sano is in the lineup, it will be as the designated hitter.

So Escobar's status as the third baseman seems secure as the wild card game approaches. The guy who might lose out is Robbie Grossman, who has himself been strictly a DH since returning from his thumb injury.

Grossman has nine homers on the season with a slash line of .248/.364/.383. He's sort of the reverse image of Escobar -- big on walks, light on the power. (His September slugging percentage, .484, has been sharply higher.) Fourteen Twin have more than 100 plate appearances; only Joe Mauer has a better on-base percentage than Grossman.

Don't underestimate the importance of the ability to reach base. Escobar's big flies are valuable and startling. Grossman's walks are mundane -- but just as valuable.

But the choice really isn't between Grossman and Escobar. It's between Grossman and Sano, and the real question is, is Sano ready to hit against playoff caliber pitching?

A secondary question might be: Is Grossman able to play outfield? He hasn't in weeks. And if he can't, is there room on the playoff roster for two bat-only "position players"?

The Twins have a few days to draw their conclusions and make their decisions. At thp point, I'm skeptical of Sano's return.

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