Minor League Report: Alcides Escobar
Brewers shortstop prospect turning heads with his glove
PHOENIX -- The pitcher called it the best play that's ever been made behind him. The catcher said it was the best play he had ever seen in a baseball game -- period.
But one of the coaches who was in the dugout for Brewers shortstop Alcides Escobar's defensive gem against the White Sox on Monday called it "ho-hum."
"That play might crack his top 10. Might," said Milwaukee first-base coach Ed Sedar, a former roving Minor League coach who has seen plenty of Escobar over the past five years. "He's made a bunch of plays like that before. They call him 'Inspector Gadget.'"
As in, "Go, go, gadget arm!" from the 1980s television cartoon about a bungling detective with an array of mechanics built into his body. Escobar flashed his own tools in the top of the 10th inning of an eventual 4-4 tie, when White Sox utility man Pablo Ozuna hit a hard grounder to the hole between shortstop and third base. Escobar ranged to his right.
"It was a hit," said left-hander Mitch Stetter, who was on the mound. "It was going to the left fielder, all the way.
"Then when he got to it, I was like, 'Dang, I can't believe he got to the ball, but there's no way he'll throw it. There's no chance.'"
Escobar did throw it, leaping and firing a fastball to first base that surprised Stetter with its velocity. It surprised catcher Vinny Rottino, too.
"It was the best play I've ever seen," Rottino said. "And it was Ozuna. I played against him in the Dominican [Winter League]. That guy can run."
Escobar has been regarded as a defense-first player since he signed as a non-drafted free agent in July 2003, but he can hit a bit, too. In four Minor League seasons, he has a .280 average and 100 stolen bases, including a 2007 campaign split between Class A Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville in which he batted a career-best .206. He doesn't hit for power; in 407 games and 1,595 at-bats, Escobar has only seven home runs.
The makeup of Milwaukee's Major League roster will help determine Escobar's 2008 assignment. Ozzie Chavez, Joe Dillon and Abraham Nunez are all in big league camp alongside Escobar, and each could make up the Triple-A Nashville infield if they don't stick with the Brewers. In that case, Escobar would go back to Huntsville.
"I don't think that there's any doubt he can play in Triple-A," Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "Those decisions are still being made."
Escobar was rated the Brewers' third-best prospect entering 2008 by Baseball America and the 42nd-best prospect in baseball following the 2007 season by MiLB.com. He said those rankings are an honor, not a burden.
Wherever he ends up this season, Escobar regards his first Major League camp as a positive experience.
"I feel ready in one year or two years, or maybe even this year," he said. "You never know what will happen. I'm happy to have a chance to play here with the Milwaukee Brewers, with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. I'm playing with the other big league guys."
He'll join those guys some day, Stetter predicted.
"He's got the arm. He's got everything," Stetter said. "It's funny, because he's only 20 years old and you can tell he's going to be a great player someday. He's going to save so many runs."
Expanding his role: Stetter is experimenting this spring with varying his arm slot against right-handers, an attempt to be a more versatile bullpen option.
Stetter's sidearm delivery makes him extremely tough on left-handed hitters, just like current Brewers reliever Brian Shouse. But in the past, Stetter has used an overhand delivery against right-handed batters.
In his last two outings, after a suggestion by Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux, Stetter has switched it up. Within an at-bat, Stetter will pitch from various angles.
"Showing them a different arm slot kind of catches them off-guard," Stetter said. "I think it's going to really help me out. Vinny was saying [Monday] that some of the hitters were like, 'What was that?'
"All of my pitching is always deception. I've been told, 'Your stuff isn't that good.' My stuff might not be that good, but my deception can make me an effective pitcher."
Stetter first appeared in big league camp in 2006 and opened some eyes. He has spent parts of the last three seasons at Triple-A Nashville and might be headed there again at the end of Spring Training. But Stetter has his sights on the big leagues and wants to be regarded as more than a left-handed specialist.
"People label you a certain thing: A specialist," he said. "But I don't want to be labeled. I want to be great against lefties, but at the same time, I want to be able to get righties out, too. I don't want to limit myself to being used only against lefties. I want to be more valuable. Hopefully, at some point down the line, I can be a seventh-, eighth-inning guy who faces anybody."
Making his mark: Asked why outfield prospect Brendan Katin got the nod to start Monday's split-squad game against the Mariners as the Brewers' designated hitter, manager Ned Yost said simply, "I like him." It didn't hurt that Katin is friends with Yost's son, a Minor League catcher, and visited the Yost's in Atlanta during the offseason.
Katin made the most of his opportunity. He went 3-for-6 including a pair of doubles, scored three runs and drove in six. The Brewers romped Seattle, 17-3. Katin traveled again with the big league Brewers for Tuesday's game against the Angels.
The 25-year-old Floridian batted .258 at Huntsville last season and led the Southern League in home runs (24, a Huntsville record) and RBIs (94) but also in strikeouts (163). According to Baseball America, he has the best outfield arm in Milwaukee's system.
He said it: "The only thing that wasn't real pretty about the play was the green hat he was wearing." -- Yost, on the Chavez gem. The Brewers wore bright green caps for St. Patrick's Day
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.