The desert air turns Eduardo Escobar into a hitting machine.
Back in 2010, Eduardo Escobar showed he was capable of playing over way over his head for weeks at a time when he hit .300/.353/.536 in the Arizona Fall League. The slugging percentage is the unfathomable part -- he collected four doubles, five triples and four homers over 28 games.
He probably should have started 2011 in Birmingham after a lackluster second half of 2010, but the strong showing in the AFL gave him the green light for Charlotte. With the Knights, he racked up four triples and four homers ... over 138 games.
Triple-A exacerbated some flaws -- he hit .266/.303/.354, and struck out a whopping 104 times over 536 plate appearances. For a guy listed at 5'10" soaking wet and with that little power, 104 strikeouts should be a mathematical impossibility.
Then again, he was only 22 years old, and he could offset the below-average offense with an above-average glove. With that combination, repeating Triple-A in 2012 wouldn't damage his prospect stock. He needs to tighten up his strike zone, the White Sox don't have any open roads to serious playing time in the infield ... where else could he get the playing time he needs besides Charlotte?
But lo! We forgot to account for the fact that Escobar would participate in another showcase-type situation in Arizona. Apparently, he's awesome at these.
So far this spring, Escobar is 12-for-25 with a two doubles and a homer, giving him an unlikely line of .480/.480/.680. He hasn't drawn a walk, but don't worry -- he hasn't struck out either.
It's been a gradual warm-up for Escobar, who has 10 hits in his last 16 at-bats. He went 2-for-3 on Thursday -- a roped single and a bunt single that turned into three bases thanks to a Bruce Chen error. Even his third trip was productive -- he hit a drive to right-center that Greg Golson dropped, and Escobar ended up on third yet again after the error.
On top of that, his defense was spotless until he dropped a double-play-starting toss from Gordon Beckham. But he made up for it later with a great play on the other side of second. Basically, Escobar is doing everything in his power to win the audition.
Yet it’s hard to tell what the pecking order is. On one hand, the Sox gave Escobar preferential treatment over Ozzie Martinez, so it’s clear they have something invested in him. But the Sox are also giving Dan Johnson a long, hard look, and even Dallas McPherson's playing time is creeping up there, too.
I get the feeling they would like to avoid carrying Escobar if possible, and it's not his fault. Really, he makes perfect sense by making the depth chart nice and even and sensible, and if his name were "Omar Vizquel" and he were making a million dollars, nobody would question his spot.
His most valuable asset (shortstop defense) is practically worthless with Alexei Ramirez around, because Ramirez hogs the position (thank goodness). The only time they would need Escobar is in event of disaster, and even then, they could absorb most of the short-term consequences by letting Brent Lillibridge finish the game there. Hell, they played a pitchers' duel with Joe Crede and Jermaine Dye manning shortstop, and their defense didn't cost the Sox the game.
Nobody has complaints about defense at second or third, and there are going to be very few situations where it would be preferable to see Escobar at the plate than Gordon Beckham or Brent Morel, even though Escobar is a switch-hitter. So now we're down to "he'd be a decent second pinch runner" for situations where Escobar would really come in handy, and that's not really an efficient use of a guy who still needs to shore up his game with regular playing time at Charlotte.
With Ramirez seldom needing a day off, the infielder with the most utility would be the guy to spare Morel or Beckham from the Justin Masterson-style righty-killers. Johnson would be ideal given his knowledge of the strike zone, but he hasn't played an inning at third yet. That might mean great things for McPherson since he has played 28 innings at third this spring, but his hitting ability is much more limited, so he's the compromise candidate.
Of course, there's nothing really wrong with giving Escobar a brief look in April, and if Robin Ventura finds few reasons to play him, they can swap him for the most useful guy in Charlotte. I know it seemed like it was against the rules to change utility infielders on the 25-man roster over the course of the season, but really, the Sox are free to change their mind after all.