The Pittsburgh Pirates are a team that must live and die by its prospects. In a new series, PBD will project each of the team’s Top 20 prospects in 2017.
Welcome to a new recurring series here at Pirates Breakdown in which we count down and project the 2017 seasons for each of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Top 20 prospects, ranked as per MLB Pipeline.
Today we look at the club’s #16 overall prospect – RHP Luis Escobar
Originally an infielder. scouts noted that Escobar could throw the ball hard, so he gave pitching a try.
That ended up working out great for the youngster. In fact, it got him a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates at just 17 years old. He then burst onto the scene in 2014, but with wildly inconsistent with his fastball and off-speed offerings. As things stand now, Escobar has a 60-rated fastball, but the curve and change are a bit further behind. The fastball is live as yo’ll see below. The curveball has been said to have an interesting spin, and one would hope that he can grow into that more as he learns how to pitch.
Escobar is only 20 years old, so there is plenty of time for development. Let’s take a look at what makes Escobar a good prospect going forward for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
One of the obvious strengths in Escobar’s game is the velocity he has with his 60-rated fastball.
While the pitch can be ineffective at times, he also gets a lot of swings and misses out of it. The heat is far and away Escobar’s best pitch. It sits between 91-93 MPH, but every once in a while he will touch the 95 MPH range. His velocity has spiked since signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013, which gives the organization hope that maybe he will continue to throw harder yet.
Escobar had 61 strikeouts in the 67.2 innings he pitched last season. That is impressive in itself for a young hurler still figuring things out. It could show that raw talent could leave him with a higher floor than many previously thought.
Escobar had a stepping-stone type of season in 2016. He was able to compile a 2.93 ERA in 2016 while he pitched the 67.2 innings mentioned above. A modest improvement over his 3.83 ERA in 2015 between the GCL Pirates and the Black Bears.
A unique note about Escobar that could become a strength is his wind up. In the video below, you will see that at times the wind up can be hard to time for hitters. Though hese are intermediate to low level hitters he is facing, it will certainly be something to watch as he climbs the systems ladder.
Areas of Improvement
One area that Escobar will have to improve upon is his off-speed pitch selection and location. He features a change-up and curveball, even though both are wildly inconsistent. Often times when hitters do get a nice swing on the ball against Escobar it is because they correctly guess fastball. You will notice in video below of Escobar that if his off-speed pitches are not working early in a ballgame, he will almost solely rely on his fastball.
That is not uncommon for a young pitcher to do if they have a plus fastball, but it is something that Escobar will have to work on if he wants to be a major league starter.
Where He Starts 2017
It is reasonable to assume that after last season’s success, Escobar may start with the West Virginia Power this year. If you look at Escobar’s numbers coming down the stretch, it appeared he was really starting to get the hang of Low-A hitters. Playing against higher quality opponents could force Escobar to further develop his off-speed pitches, only helping him out in the long run.
Where He Ends 2017
If Escobar is able to achieve success at the A level with the Power, he may be able to move up to Bradenton by the end of the season. Escobar will have to show the coaches and other staff that he is ready for that challenge, though. Management will want to see a much improved change-up and curveball before exposing Escobar to higher level hitters. It is well known that a pitcher can lose his confidence at a young age. Thus far, the Pittsburgh Pirates have taken a smart approach with Escobar, and it may result in a slower progression than one might think.