For a primer on the 20-80 scouting scale, check out Kevin Goldstein’s article at Baseball Prospectus. When listening to scouts, baseball front office personnel, writers, or random baseball guys, the 20-80 scouting scale eventually comes up. It’s always a good idea to have knowledge of how players are performing according to this scale so that baseball conversations have a common reference point.
Here are Alcides Escobar‘s scouting grades.
Although Escobar was a terrible, truly terrible, hitter in 2013, former hitting coach Kevin Seitzer says that he has “zip in his bat.” It’s true. Escobar slugged .390 in 2012, which doesn’t happen unless the player can barrel the bat to the baseball. Even in 2013, he had a 21% line drive rate compared to 2012’s 20%.
He put way too many balls in the air last year. His groundball to fly ball ratio dropped from 1.10 in 2012 to .91 in 2013. Instead of turning groundballs into infield hits, he’s just flying out. His BAbip dropped from .344 to .264, exactly what it was in 2010 (the last time he hit too many fly balls). If he’d keep the ball out of the air, his average should go up.
He makes frequent contact on fastballs and rarely strikes out. The contact is weak, but as long as the ball is on the ground, he has a decent chance to outrun choppers and throws from deep in the 5-6 hole.
He’s bad at pretty much everything else. He hits .202 on sliders. He has a sub-.300 SLG on curveballs. His walk rate declined from 7% in 2010, to 4% in 2011 and 2012, then down to 3% in 2013. That’s a dangerous trend.
It’s hard to determine how good his eye is, because he swings at the first pitch in the strike zone, usually a first pitch fastball. His career walk rate is 4.3%. Even though it’s frustrating to watch him jump all over the first pitch, he’s so bad at hitting anything but a fastball, he should probably keep swinging at first pitch fastballs. Otherwise, he’ll be even worse.
It’s not much. It’s also not nuthin’. He hits four or five home runs a year and hits the ball deep enough to get some extra bases at Kauffman stadium. He was a disaster in 2013, with doubles and triples down from his career average. Those might rebound on their own.
Escobar has as much range as any shortstop in the league. He was a deserved finalist for a Gold Glove. He frequently gathers groundballs on the other side of second base and smoothly collects tough hops on line drives. Somehow, with all that impressive skill, he randomly bumbles plays–easy plays. Balls kick off his glove for no apparent reason. He takes too long to make throws, as if he’s having trouble gripping the ball on transfers from his glove to his throwing hand. He has more of these plays than most shortstops.
His defense suffers from the occasional lack of concentration. Still, having a guy who can range 45 feet in any direction and plays 155+ games per year is an invaluable asset. In a year’s time, he more than makes up for those misplays on defense.
Escobar has 80 arm strength. His accuracy, on the other hand, has suffered increasingly from what seems to be a lack of concentration…or too much concentration, maybe. He turns too many easy plays into tough ones, by skipping the ball to Hosmer, making him reach up, left, right and scoop. Hosmer had to scoop more balls out of the dirt than any other AL first baseman in 2013. Balls also sailed over his head. Hosmer also made would-be errors into outs by tagging runners after bad throws pulled him off the bag (it certainly contributed to his Gold Glove). Escobar’s throwing accuracy may be below average by this point and he needs to work on improving it.
His arm is strong enough to get plenty of extra outs. His throws narrowly beat runners from deep in the 5-6 hole. He has made multiple spinning plays behind the second base bag that generated enough momentum to get the ball to first for tough outs. His arm is strong enough that he can throw from his knees and nail runners without a problem. If he maintains concentration in the field, he’ll put up numbers like Andrelton Simmons.
He has stolen 29 bases in a row. According to Baseball-Reference.com he was worth seven runs on the basepaths in 2013, taking bases when it was safe and avoiding unnecessary risks. He has the ability to steal 30-40 bases a year, however, he doesn’t get on base enough for that to happen. When he does get on base, at least he appreciates the value of being on base. He is rarely thrown out and if he puts the ball on the ground at the plate, he can beat out a lot of throws.
Overall, Escobar is a paragon of secondary skills, magnificent at everything except the most important tool of all: hitting. He’s still young (26) and hasn’t reached his full hitting potential. His body is still filling out and he might develop some additional strength that will help his batting average. If he can keep his OBP around .300, the rest of his skills will make up for other shortcomings at the plate. If he stays vigilant in the field, he’s be an unstoppable defensive force.