Despite the loss last night, Twins utility infielder Eduardo Escobar had himself a ballgame. He hit a 2 out RBI single in the 2nd. Then Escobar led off the 5th with a 7 pitch at bat resulting in a long home run to left-center field on a 3-2 pitch. After flying out in the 7th, he came up with 2 out in the 9th as the Twins tried to rally back. He worked the count to 2-2 before fighting off a high fastball and looping another single into center field for his third hit of the game. That brought his season totals to 6 for 11 (.545 AVG), a 2B, a HR, and 5 RBI’s; all while playing a very solid shortstop, and driving in the game winning walk-off runs against Detroit last week.
Manager Ron Gardenhire has made it fairly clear that he really likes Escobar, and his success at the plate and in the field early in 2013 brings up two questions. How much longer does Gardenhire wait for Pedro Florimon to show that he can concentrate in the field for 9 straight innings? And, if Escobar does become an everyday player, would Gardenhire consider moving him up to the leadoff spot if Aaron Hicks continues to struggle there?
Now, before we get too crazy, let’s remember that it’s still just 8 games into the season, and Escobar only has just 11 plate appearances under his belt in 2013. It’s not as though a 10 day stretch to start the season will or should cause the Twins to mix everything up right now. After all, they are still 4-4, a win-loss record that most of us are pleasantly surprised by to begin with.
Florimon is obviously a really good defensive shortstop, but I was surprised to see that (in a somewhat limited sample size) he is actually below average by sabermetric standards. Not only that, but he really knows how to frustrate a fan base by mis-handling routine ground balls, and this year especially with his off-target throws over to first. Escobar, again in a relatively small sample size, has been very good defensively by sabermetric standards, and tends to make all the plays he should make and add some of that Florimon flash once in a while too. He might not have quite as strong of an arm as Florimon does, but so far he has been much more consistently accurate.
While Escobar has made the big splashes from the offensive side of the plate, Florimon isn’t lagging too far behind. He’s 5 for 12 on the year (.417) with a 2B and 2 RBI’s, but has also shown an outstanding ability to draw walks – 4 already. Both have shown the ability to have good at bats from time to time, and Escobar seems to have a little more pop in his bat early on; however, Florimon actually has more extra base hits (185 to 125) and a better slugging percentage (.354 to .348) in their careers in the minors. If both of these guys keep hitting and getting on base, maybe the debate becomes whether or not Brian Dozier should be the everyday second baseman.
As for the leadoff hitter debate, we all know Aaron Hicks has really struggled now that the games that matter have started. His .067 average and 13 strikeouts in just 30 at bats right now is making Drew Butera look like a major league hitter. I would really like to see how Hicks fares after a day off just being able to watch a game last night. He seems like a guy that is willing to learn, adjust, and improve the more he plays. I think it would need to get a lot worse before the Twins should send him down to AAA – as in, I think he should play at least 2 months here before they decide he just can’t do it at this level yet.
Hitting leadoff, however, may just be a pressure that could be lifted by putting someone like Escobar at the top of the lineup and moving Hicks down to the 8 or 9 slot. I would give Hicks another 30 at bats over the next 7-10 days, and if he doesn’t improve and Escobar continues the way he is, get Escobar in the lineup and let him lead off for a while. But don’t take Hicks out of the lineup – let him play through this. The more situations he experiences, the better he will get and the more comfortable he’ll be.
As for Escobar, one other thing that jumped out at me last night was how fired up he was when he hit the home run. It looked like he wanted to let all his emotions out, but knew the team was still down 3 runs. On a team full of laid back Minnesotan-types, it might be good to have at least one guy out there who will show some emotion and be a vocal presence (even if it’s not in English).
Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.