Luis Escobar Just Misses Baseball America’s Top 20 South Atlantic League Prospects List

Baseball America released their list of the top 20 prospects in the South Atlantic League on Friday morning. No one from the West Virginia Power made the top 20, but right-handed pitcher Luis Escobar was apparently very close to making the list.

J.J. Cooper held a chat in the afternoon and responded to a question about Escobar and whether he was considered for the list. Here is his answer:

“Escobar didn’t miss by much. The tough thing every year about ranking the Sally League is that the difference between the 15th and 25th best prospect in this league is very minimal and is a subject of great debate. Escobar has a chance for 3 avg or better pitches. He’s a very solid pitching prospect with some projection left.”

Escobar led the South Atlantic League this year with 168 strikeouts and held batters to a .200 average. He had a solid 1.19 WHIP, but he walked 60 batters and hit 13 others, which combined is the highest total of free passes to first base in the league. Along with the inability to avoid big innings, which led to a 3.83 ERA, Escobar didn’t show the consistency you’d like to see from a top 20 prospect.

He was still strongly considered for the top 20 though based on the fact that he has a mid-90s fastball, to go along with an above average curve and a solid changeup, giving him three pitches that he could use to record strikeouts. When you add in that he turned 21 years old during the middle of the season, you see why he was just outside of the top 20 despite the control issues and an ERA above league average.

The Pirates will have to decide this winter if they want to add Escobar to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He has the type of arm that would intrigue clubs, especially since he can ramp it up to 98 MPH in relief. His control issues and lack up experience above Low-A make him a risky selection. That’s especially true considering that he often relies on impatient hitters chasing bad pitches, rather than getting swing and misses in and around the strike zone, although he has the stuff to be that type of pitcher. Even with Rule 5 picks increasing to $100,000 (compared to $50,000 before this past winter), you would have to think a team would still gamble on taking him and giving him a look.

Baseball America will continue with the top 20 lists next week. The New York-Penn League (Morgantown) should be released Tuesday or Wednesday, but I wouldn’t expect anyone from the Pirates on that list. The Appalachian League (Bristol) should be released Thursday or Friday and we could possibly see Braeden Ogle on that list. His scouting reports were strong and it’s only a ten-team league, so the talent pool is smaller than leagues like the South Atlantic League, which has 14 teams.

I’d expect the Gulf Coast League to go up early in the following week, although BA occasionally goes out of order based on whether or not the person who wrote up the league is available for the chat. So it is possible that the GCL appears Friday during this upcoming week.

  • Not that I really care much about prospect rankings, other than they are fun to read and cause a lot of turmoil amongst fans, but I wonder if the struggles of Cole, Taillon and Glasnow have made the ranking pundits skeptical of the Pirates pitching prospects. I wouldn’t think it would, but you never know.

  • I don’t want to lose him but I don’t want to start his clock ticking either. If we put him in the 40-man, we would waste:
    1. His first option in High A with his control issues keeping him in high A for the whole year
    2. His second option in AA with a brief call up to AAA
    Now his third option might finally see his MLB debut but he would then be out of options and have to make the team the next year..

  • I’m glad the cost of making a Rule 5 pick has gone up because these picks can really impact a player’s development. In Escobar’s case being picked could end his chances of being a starter.

    What I’d like to see is the cost be tied to a team’s payroll, and in general much higher than $100,000.

    • Good point. Wei-Chung Wang lost a lot that year he sat on the bench in Milwaukee. Hard to lose a year of development. Wang had a solid year at AAA this year, but was not very effective for Milwaukee – still only 25.

      Escobar is a solid choice for the 40; he will be lost if not protected. 10-7, 25 starts, 131 IP, 168 K’s, 11.5K/4.1W per 9, and he also hit 13 batters, and threw 25 WP. He and Oddy Nunez make an excellent young R/L pairing and both could move fast.

      • Wang actually cleared waivers and then was added back to the 40. Part of the reason he cleared waivers is because of his pay. Even though he spent all of 2015 in the minors, his salary was still $300,000 because teams have to pay players at least 60% of their salary from the previous season. That also means last season he made at least $180,000.

        When you look at it from Escobar’s perspective, getting added to the 40 is a nice little increase in pay ($10K to $43K), but getting selected in the draft and sticking guarantees him over $1M the next three years, even if he pitches like Wang did for the Brewers in 2014. With MLB minimum going up to $545,000, that would give him $327K in 2019 and $192K in 2020 while developing as a starter in the minors. A 40-man spot for the Pirates guarantees him about 20% of that amount over the same time frame.

        • I sure hope we are not feeling generous in allowing Escobar to escape in the Rule 5. We can save that for incentives at the MLB level.

          Thanks for the info on money difference, because since millions have become so commonplace, it is hard to consider the difference in minor league salaries into the decision. But I think this kid has the stuff to be in the Rotation in Pittsburgh soon. To be this developed as one of the youngest SP’s at the Lo A level is proof-positive that the Pirates scouting on Pitchers continues to be spot-on.