FORT MYERS, FLA. – Twins second baseman Brian Dozier believes that Eduardo Escobar is the best utility player in the league.
“Hands down, in my opinion,” Dozier said. “He’s a good defender, but he can swing it.”
OK it’s settled. Best utility player, right?
“I don’t consider him a utility player,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said.
Wait, well he’s not a regular. Twins Manager Paul Molitor’s lineup has everyday players not named Escobar at each position.
He’s not a utility player. He’s not a regular. But the Twins want him on the field a lot.
“I don’t know if I can give you a number [of games he’ll play],” Molitor said. “Trying to figure what is going to make sense getting him in there, trying to play matchups and different things. I don’t want to throw it out there and then come up short. He knows I want to play him and keep him as sharp as I possibly can. I just have to be a little creative.”
Escobar is going to play a lot, maybe as much as some regulars, but he just won’t start games at the same position. Is there a title for that? Super utility player? Tenth man? This is happening because Escobar has shown surprising power and consistency at the plate, but can’t crack the lineup at a single position.
Escobar was considered a weak hitter when he was traded to the Twins along with lefthander Pedro Hernandez in July 2012 in exchange for Francisco Liriano. He batted .236 in 66 games with the Twins in 2013, his first full season in the organization.
His playing time increased last season as Danny Santana, originally called up to play short, was needed in center field.
Escobar played 98 games at short and took advantage of more playing time, batting .275 with 35 doubles. He also played at second, third, left and center.
And the Twins best offensive player this spring? It has been Escobar, who’s batting .333 with team highs in hits (19), total bases (34), home runs (four) and RBI (17).
Spring training numbers can be dangerous to go on, but coming off last season, the Twins feel Escobar’s bat cannot be allowed to stay on the bench.
Molitor has used Escobar at second, short, third and left field during spring training games, which will be the positions he likely will play during the regular season. Molitor definitely will use him in left instead of Oswaldo Arcia against tough lefthanded pitchers.
But outfield isn’t Escobar’s strongest position. He started in center during a May 8 game in Cleveland last season and, while getting two outfield assists, looked unsure of himself tracking balls. Even during spring training, he’s taken the wrong route on fly balls, but the Twins want him to work through that.
“That’s what we need him to do,” Molitor said. “To see that and hopefully get better.”
In describing Escobar’s role, Molitor compared him to former major leaguers Tony Phillips and Bip Roberts, players who were lineup fixtures via several positions.
“Paul is going to certainly be challenged to make sure [Escobar] gets the at-bats he warrants,” Ryan said. “Some days you are going to see him at third, then short, second, maybe DH, some in left. I think he is going to be able to spread around the wealth. That’s a good problem for us to have.
“I understand it was not what Eduardo was hoping to see, but he is a team guy. I know that.”
Escobar reported to camp believing he had a chance to hold the starting shortstop job, but the club remained committed to using Santana at his natural position. Instead of being frustrated about not winning the job, Escobar is optimistic he can impact the lineup nearly every day.
“I love it,” Escobar said. “I can play every day if they want, and if they want to put me at different positions I don’t care.”
Then, while nodding toward Molitor’s office Escobar added, “I’m here for him, you know. So if they need me for whatever position here, good. I love this organization and I love staying here. I love my position and I wait for my opportunity here.’’