by Kyle Johansen
Alcides Escobar entered the 2010 season as a well hyped sleeper to target for steals and a decent batting average. The only problem, other than the fact that he didn’t hit at all, was that in the odd event that he reached base he rarely attempted to steal.
Escobar went the entire month of April starting at shortstop for the Brewers without one attempted steal. That streak came to an end on May 5th with a caught stealing and he ended the second month of the season with one stolen base on two attempts.
This was a player who had stolen 42 bases in 109 games at Triple-A in 2009 (176 minor league stolen bases). The explanation seems straightforward; the Brewers were simply not giving him the green light. Escobar did manage to end the year with 10 stolen bases, though his .235 batting average made it clear he was comfortable on the fantasy free agent list.
So how does a guy who has a .293 career minor league batting average wind up hitting .235? A .264 BABIP pretty much sums it up. Here’s a burner who was swatting line drives at an impressive 21.5% clip in 2010 and somehow was well below league average and a full 56 points below his lowest minor league BABIP.
We should see a substantial correction in 2011. After hitting .222 in June, Escobar rebounded to hit .264 in July and .261 in August before collapsing to .154 in September (a typical rookie trend). While those July and August averages are nothing to write home about, they nearly mirror Elvis Andrus’ 2009 and 2010 batting averages.
While the stolen bases and batting average suffered throughout the year, his underlying stats show a different story. After being allergic to walks in 2009 with a 3.0 BB% (albeit a small sample), Escobar more than doubled that number in 2010 walking at a rate of 6.5%. While still a weak walk rate, it’s a nice sign of an improvement in his strike zone judgment and is approaching respectability. With a better grasp of the zone, Escobar also saw his contact increase while his strikeouts decreased, from 15% throughout his minor league career to 14.4% in 2009 and then to 13.8% this past season.
If Escobar can reach base at a higher rate in 2011, with more than a full season under his belt, the Brewers should turn him loose on the base paths. What’s nice about targeting Escobar in 2011 is that the majority of fantasy players have most likely soured on him, or simply looked at his 2010 stats and are more likely to stay away. In some leagues he can potentially go undrafted. As a flyer at the end of the draft, it would not be surprising if he gives you a .280+ batting average and 20+ steals. At shortstop, you could do a lot worse.
Make sure to check out some of our other 2011 projections: