Keith Law wrapped up his prospect coverage on Friday morning with a sleeper prospect for each team (subscription required). He named right-handed pitcher Luis Escobar as the top sleeper for the Pirates.
From his article, here are the qualifications for the players who make his sleeper list each year:
“These players listed are not in the current top 100, but I think they have a good chance to take a big leap forward during 2017, ending up not just in the top 100 but also somewhere in the middle to upper reaches of it.”
Escobar was mentioned here last week in the top 20 countdown from our 2017 Prospect Guide, which is about to go the printers very shortly. He is 19th overall in our rankings of the system. Last year we had him ranked 48th in our prospect guide and mentioned that he could climb the rankings if he continued to show improvements. After a rough few starts with Morgantown, Escobar began to show increased velocity and better control of his fastball. His changeup also took a huge step forward and the curveball continued to be used as a strikeout pitch. He did enough to make the climb that we thought was possible.
Escobar still needs to improve his control and learn to throw his off-speed pitches for strikes. He has the makings of three plus pitches, but he also relies a lot on the batters to get themselves out by chasing pitches well out of the zone. As he climbs the farm system ladder, he will get fewer chases from the more advanced hitters, so improving his off-speed control and fastball command are keys to him jumping to the next level in the rankings.
Law has been high on him for two years in a row, but he did what we were trying to avoid last year by being conservative with a raw pitcher. He had Escobar 12th last year, when the system was a little stronger at the top, then dropped him to 14th this year.
Escobar will go to West Virginia this season and likely spend the entire year there, with a possible late season promotion to Bradenton like we saw with Mitch Keller this year. As Law mentioned in his description, Escobar qualifies as a player who could take a huge leap this season and break into the top 100 prospects.
There was also news this morning that Escobar is among the finalists for Team Colombia in the World Baseball Classic next month. He was one of 16 pitchers named today as possibilities for the roster, which will be announced sometime in the next few days. The Pirates are usually conservative with young pitching prospects, but they did let Jameson Taillon pitch for Canada in 2013 and Dario Agrazal pitched for Panama in the WBC qualifiers last March when Colombia qualified for the tournament. So it’s possible they could give Escobar permission to play for his country. To this point, he has not been allowed to play winter ball in Colombia.