On Wednesday night’s 5-2 loss in Toronto, Red Sox fans witnessed the Major League debut of one more highly-ranked prospect. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Edwin Escobar, one of two prospects that the Red Sox acquired from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Jake Peavy, made his first MLB appearance with a perfect inning.
It’s not unusual for starting pitching prospects to make their Major League debuts in the bullpen and it often is no indication of the team’s future plans for that player. However, in the case of Escobar, this move to the bullpen, while not permanent by any means, could signify the team’s longterm plans for their young southpaw.
After all, while Escobar has been almost exclusively a starter throughout his Minor League career, there are a handful of factors that could prevent him from sticking there at the next level. The first of those factors is the depth in the farm system. Perhaps in a more empty organization , with fewer mouths to feed, the Red Sox would be more willing to give Escobar a longer trial period in the rotation. However, with other quality starting pitching prospects like Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo, Allen Webster, and Brandon Workman clamoring for Major League time, Escobar might not get such an extended grace period in Boston.
Another of those factors simply comes down to Escobar’s pitching. Not only is he a lower-ranked prospect than any of those afore-mentioned arms, there are also red flags that indicate he could be most successful as a relief pitcher. The most prominent of those red flags is Escobar’s splits against lefties and righties this season; while Escobar has stymied left-handed hitters, holding them to a .201/.246/.232 slash line, he has had little success against roughly 75% of hitters, as he has allowed a .323/.382/.576 to righties.
That looks alarming on the surface, and to be fair, it is pretty alarming if Escobar continues as a starter. However, if we’re looking on the bright side here, those splits are evidence that Escobar could develop into a very effective left-handed reliever.
Pitchers’ statistics as starting pitchers tend to play up in shorter stints in the bullpen so it’s realistic to think that Escobar could be even better than that when facing only left-handed hitters. Those would be elite numbers from a lefty specialist out of the bullpen and, while that’s not a specialist like that is not an essential role for a team, it’s still a valuable reliever to have.
The Red Sox will likely keep Escobar as a starter for a bit more time– perhaps he’ll even get a few starts at the end of this season. However, if he is unable to even out those splits a bit, then the bullpen is likely his future home. And considering the starting pitching depth that the Red Sox have in the upper minors, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If the Red Sox are able to easily determine that Escobar belongs in the bullpen, then that means there are more Major League starts to go to the Red Sox other top pitching prospects. And as long as guys like Ranaudo, Owens, Webster, and Barnes hold up their end of the bargain, there’s nothing wrong with being a stud reliever on a contending team and that’s exactly what Escobar could be.