What is Wrong With Yunel Escobar?

By David Hill

When Yunel Escobar was acquired from the Miami Marlins in exchange for Derek Dietrich, it was thought that the Rays may have finally found a truly productive shortstop since Jason Bartlett circa 2009. If nothing else, it was expected that Escobar would solidify the defense in the middle of their infield, and be at least somewhat adequate at the plate.

Everything seemed fine heading into the season. Despite being traded by three teams in under two and a half years, and despite his reputation as a bad clubhouse influence, he appeared to fit in seamlessly with the Rays culture and atmosphere. Endorsed by Jose Molina, and praised for his attitude by the coaching staff, he seemed primed for a bounce back season.

However, once the season began, what had seemed like a dream situation for Escobar turned into a nightmare. His offense has been sub Reid Brignac levels, with a batting line of only .115/.207/.154. He has had 17 at bats with runners in scoring position this year, and has managed only one hit and a sacrifice bunt. Seemingly every time the Rays have a two out rally going, Escobar ends up coming to the plate and making the final out. Even though he had a down year in 2012, it was expected that he would rebound in 2013.

Yet, even if Escobar did not regain his form at the plate, it was expected that he would be an asset in the field. Even though he has only been charged with one error, he has made a number of miscues that have not appeared in the box score, but managed to extend innings. For example, on Thursday night, his drop when he attempted to transition the ball during what could have been a double play extended the frame, leading to a two out, two run home run. When watching Escobar, he seems to be an instinctive player, such as when he attempted to double off a runner by covering second after a rundown.

It appears as though the instincts are still there, and it is unlikely that his skill level has diminished that drastically, particularly as Escobar is only 30 years old. So, with that being the case, what could be causing his struggles in virtually every facet of his game? It may actually just be due to the weight of the expectations upon him. It is generally thought that Tampa represents Escobar’s last chance to prove that he is not the miscreant is is thought to be, and that if he fouls up this situation, he may find himself out of the majors despite his talent. He is also likely aware of the expectations that have been placed upon him on the field as well. After spending his career without the pressure of being an essential part of the lineup, Escobar is being counted on to help produce runs and potentially be a vital part of the offense.

The Rays have to hope that Yunel Escobar is just in a prolonged adjustment period with his new club. If the offense continues to produce as it had the past few nights, then his struggles would not be as major, particularly if he gets himself back together in the field. Otherwise, he may find himself needing to adjust to yet another team next season.