In many, many ways Escobar plays key role for Twins

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 25, 2013 - 5:37 AM

Eduardo Escobar can run, play defense (at multiple positions) and is showing some pop at the plate.

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Already this season, Eduardo Escobar has been used at shortstop and third base and in left field.

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Eduardo Escobar “can do a lot of things,” manager Ron Gardenhire says, and he’s given the utility man plenty of chances to prove it with the Twins. The 24-year-old Venezuelan has served as a pinch runner and a pinch hitter. He’s played shortstop and third base. He’s served as an emergency left fielder when the Twins were shorthanded, and he’s even worn catcher’s gear in the bullpen, just in case.

And that’s just the beginning. “He says he can pitch,” teammate Wilkin Ramirez said. “He’s done it before.”

Sure enough, Escobar took the mound a couple of times when he was in rookie ball, and somehow managed to get seven outs while allowing only one baserunner. Not bad.

But Escobar has added yet another talent in this season’s early going, something he’s never really done before, certainly not at the major league level:

He’s hitting.

The smallest player on the Twins roster (he’s listed generously at 5-10) racked up his second three-hit game of the season on Tuesday night, plus a walk. Joe Mauer (three), Brian Dozier (one) and Justin Morneau (one) are the only other Twins with three-hit games this year, and Escobar’s have come in only five starts. He’s 9-for-18, with a triple and a home run, when he’s in the starting lineup.

“He’s a nice little player,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been swinging great. A lot of fun to watch out there.”

Particularly when he’s running. Escobar also might be the fastest Twin, and he turned on the speed Tuesday night when he lined a ball into the right-center gap against the Marlins. Escobar reached third base standing up without a throw, and even appeared prepared to round the bag and keep going.

It’s quite a start for a player whose minor league career gave few hints that he might be able to contribute at this level. He showed moderate promise as a teenager, shortly after signing with the White Sox at 17 in 2006, but his batting skills waned as he rose through the minors. In parts of three seasons at Class AA and Class AAA for the White Sox — who included Escobar in a trade for Francisco Liriano last July — and Twins, the infielder amassed an on-base percentage of only .294, not nearly good enough to suggest he could be effective in the majors, even with his solid fielding ability.

“He’s more confident now,” Ramirez said after Escobar smashed a long opposite-field home run in Kansas City two weeks ago. “He says he’s learned to drive the ball.”

It’s only three weeks, way too little time to draw conclusions. But Gardenhire said in spring training that he liked Escobar’s versatility and speed, a combination that kept Alexi Casilla on the Twins roster for six years.

“He’s got a great arm and really goes after the ball,” Gardenhire said. “He’s a good guy to have around.”

Notes

• Twins closer Glen Perkins struck out all three Marlins he faced Tuesday to earn his sixth save. He has struck out eight of the past 13 hitters he’s faced and has saved 17 of his past 18 opportunities.

• Dozier had three hits and a walk in Tuesday’s doubleheader, bringing his batting average in five games as the Twins’ leadoff hitter to .389 (7-for-18).

• Harmon Killebrew’s grandson Grant Hockin, a righthanded pitcher from Damien High School in La Verne, Calif., has been selected to the Under Armour All-America Game, to be held at Wrigley Field on Aug. 24.

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