In a recent column, Buster Olney ranks the Rays infield as the fourth best in MLB, but names Escobar as the “x-factor.” And somebody with the Blue Jays had this very telling quote about Escobar…
“Every day, he makes at least one major mistake on defense or running the bases.”
Olney adds that “there’s a reason someone who is perceived to be so talented has bounced to four teams (including the Marlins) in four seasons,” and wonders if Escobar will “drive the Rays crazy” while they wait for his talent.
Of course, there was the well-publicized incident with the Blue Jays in which Escobar had a gay slur written on his eye black. But even before that, Escobar had a reputation as a player that often failed to hustle and was labeled as an underachiever with the Braves.
That sounds a little like Delmon Young. But it also sounds a lot like BJ Upton*.
Over the years I was accused by some fans of being a classic BJ Upton hater and by others of being a BJ Upton apologist. The truth was somewhere in the middle. He was a great player that did some very boneheaded things. That being said, I also thought he improved his “baseball smarts” in the last year or so.
I doubt Escobar will ever reach the level of Upton, who may have been the most polarizing athlete this area has ever seen. Escobar wasn’t drafted by the Rays with the second pick overall, so the level of expectations will not be as high. But if you thought the Rays no longer had anybody that will make you shake your head, guess again.
* Personally, I never thought hustling was a problem for Upton. Rather, when Upton was younger I just thought he didn’t know the right times to kick in the extra gear. In fact, while there were a couple of hustling incidents, there were many more times when Upton was pushing too hard trying to take extra bases when it was too risky or unnecessary.