Luis Escobar Heads to the Futures Game, While Holding Back His Own Future

CHARLESTON, WV – On July 9, Luis Escobar will be the first Low-A Pirates prospect to suit up for the MLB Futures Game since Dilson Herrera in 2013. The Colombian fireballer has had mixed results throughout the season, but his buzz-worthy stuff impressed Baseball America and officials around Major League Baseball enough to earn a spot on the World roster.

Escobar has even caught the eye of Pirates GM Neal Huntington, who had input in Escobar’s selection to the team.

“As we walked through the names that Major League Baseball sent us to consider as candidates, we felt that being on the big stage might be great for him,” Huntington said. “It’s a guy with weapons. He has a quality breaking ball that he can get swing and miss with. The changeup is developing. Fastball has power to it.”

It’s true Escobar has plenty of weapons. His primary weapons, the fastball and curve, are so dominant that he rarely has to use his changeup, meaning his changeup might not get the practice it needs. His fastball has late downward movement and sits 93-95, touching as high as 97. The curve is perhaps his best pitch, with a sharp late break that produces truly embarrassing swings by the opposition. (When he hangs the curve, it produces truly awe-inspiring bombs by the opposition.)

Part of what makes Escobar so overpowering is his approach to at-bats. He likes to come inside on hitters, backing them off the plate, and then he pulls off a looping curve just out of reach. His questionable control of both pitches, which has led to a team-best seven HBPs and 16 wild pitches, makes him that much more intimidating to dig in against.

“He’s had the opportunity to go out there and wow some people,” said West Virginia manager Wyatt Toregas. “He’s had multiple games with double-digit strikeouts.”

In fact, Escobar leads the South Atlantic League with 100 strikeouts in his 16 appearances. He is the only player in the Pirates system (including the big-league club) to pass the triple digit mark. The next closest to the milestone is Taylor Hearn with 87 strikeouts in 16 appearances for Bradenton.

Throughout the season, though, Escobar has struggled with his mechanics and his emotions. He maintained a fastball that sits 93-95, and his curve is as impressive as ever. However, his inability to throw strikes makes him one of the least effective pitchers on the West Virginia staff.

Escobar only throws 61% of his pitches for strikes, driving his pitch count up and limiting his innings on the mound. Of the Power pitchers who have started more than five games in the 2017 season, only Matt Anderson has thrown a lower percentage of pitches for strikes. Anderson recently lost his spot in the starting rotation to Eduardo Vera, who throws 72% of his pitches for strikes. It comes as no surprise that Escobar and Anderson lead the team in walks with 33 and 25, respectively.

As his command disintegrates, mostly due to a lack of focus and emotional control, his pitch count climbs. Escobar averages 16.4 pitches per inning, over a pitch more than the other starters on the staff. Of course, part of this comes from being the sole power pitcher on a staff of sinker-heavy groundball pitchers; it takes, after all, three pitches to record a strikeout when only one can induce a grounder. Still, Escobar’s WHIP (1.282) is the worst of the starting rotation.

In May the Power staff evaluated and commented on Escobar’s inconsistencies, and they pointed to his erratic delivery as a source of the problems. Toregas explained that he had a drop in his back leg at times, and pitching coach Drew Benes commented that Escobar rushed through his delivery when he got into trouble.

Escobar has made steps toward a more repeatable delivery and has worked on controlling his body. There were growing pains throughout this process. May, a month in which he faced two teams who had already seen him in April, saw his worst numbers from a power-pitching standpoint. In five starts, he walked 16 batters and struck out only 17, compared to nine walks and 35 strikeouts in June, when he again faced three teams who had previously faced him.

After his most recent start, he said he didn’t think about his leg at all.

“I’m just trying to keep my body square and drive toward the plate,” he said.

“I haven’t seen [the drop in the leg] lately at all,” said Toregas. “The big thing now is just controlling his emotions. When he stays locked in, he’s as good as anybody in the league. At times he gets hot when things don’t go his way, and that speeds him up.”

The statistics bear this theory out. Escobar’s BABIP is at .309, which seems high considering that opponents’ overall batting average against him is .225. This statistic is likely so high because of Escobar’s 78:107 GO:AO ratio. When batters make contact, it rockets pretty far. The BABIP increases to .313 with runners on base, and almost 12 percent of the batters he has faced with runners on base have either walked or been hit by a pitch.

Escobar’s last two starts have provided proof of this emotional collapse, which typically happens when he starts to lose command, and his ability to control that emotionality.

On June 27 in Augusta, Escobar pitched 2.2 perfect innings before allowing a single to the ninth batter in the lineup. The next batter doubled to score that run and give the GreenJackets a 1-0 lead. In the fourth, Escobar fell apart entirely, walking the leadoff batter to set up an atrocious 28-pitch inning that also featured a hit batsman, a wild pitch, and three RBI singles.

The fifth inning wasn’t any better. He hit the leadoff man, walked the bases loaded, and allowed a two-run double before leaving the game.

In his final start before the Futures Game, both players he walked came around to score – the only two runs he allowed in his start. After the first walk, he angrily shook his head and then fired a pickoff throw wide of Albert Baur at first base.

Pitching coach Drew Benes echoed his comments from May. “He’s learning to control his delivery and control the game out there, but sometimes he tries to do too much,” he said.

It’s clear at this point that Escobar has tools that could take him to the big leagues some day, even Neal Huntington has recognized that.

“He’ll continue to develop that fastball command and the repeatability,” said Huntington, “and could find himself as a major-league starting pitcher in a few years.”

But the lack of emotional maturity and pitch control will sidetrack and limit his career if he can’t overcome them. In the end, the only thing holding Luis Escobar back is himself.


Alan Saunders contributed to this report.

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David N

Is there such a thing as an emotional maturity coach?

Scott K

I’m sure you’re saying this at leads to partially in jest, but in all seriousness, coaches need to help these prospects develop in the mental aspects of the game as much as the physical. Probably more in some cases.

David N

Totally in jest. And, you’re absolutely right about the coaches’ role. Maybe, if they think of themselves as life coaches . . .

Scott Kliesen

When one considers some of these kids coming to Pirate City each year don’t know the language and have no clue how to do even routine things like open a checking account, set up cable tv, etc., you’re description of a life coach is spot on.

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