BRADENTON, Fla. – For a brief second this afternoon, I forgot that Luis Escobar set the West Virginia Power franchise record for most strikeouts in a season. I knew Tyler Glasnow previously held the record, but while talking to Escobar, I couldn’t recall that he passed up Glasnow in the final start.
“Didn’t you have the second most strikeouts in West Virginia history last year?” I asked him.
“No, number one!” Escobar exclaimed, with a smile. He was then able to recall that he had 168, and Glasnow had 164.
I asked if he brought that up to Glasnow while they were both in MLB Spring Training. He didn’t. How about this year in Bradenton? Was he going to beat Glasnow’s numbers again?
“Yeah, maybe,” Escobar said with a laugh. “You never know.”
I have a feeling Escobar is going to put up more than the 157 strikeouts that Glasnow had in his time in Bradenton. At the very least, he’s going to give that number some serious competition. Escobar has a lively fastball that consistently hits the mid-90s, and sometimes trends higher. He pairs that with a changeup that has shown solid development, along with a curveball that is a hammer, and a plus pitch when it’s on.
Escobar will get his strikeouts. The question is whether he can limit the walks.
The comparison to Glasnow continues there, with both pitchers having a strong combination of stuff that could make them top of the rotation guys, along with control issues that raise their risk levels, and will likely prevent each from reaching that upside.
But Escobar is a different pitcher than Glasnow. He’s not as tall, and his issues with control aren’t the same. Escobar’s issues have been rushing through a funky delivery, which leads to him flying open and throwing his mechanics off.
He’s been working with Bradenton pitching coach Matt Ford this year on his mechanics, focusing on being able to repeat better. One big issue is that his glove arm can drop down and away early in his delivery, leading him to fly open. It’s a similar issue that Mitch Keller had when he entered pro ball, although it’s not as easy to fix as Keller made it look.
The result is that Escobar speeds through his delivery, drops his glove down and away toward first base, and opens his body up, sailing the ball high and outside the zone.
“When I pitch, it’s too quick,” Escobar said, noting that speeding up is causing the glove to drop. “I work on controlling my body.”
He got a chance to pitch in MLB Spring Training this year, due to his placement on the Pirates’ 40-man roster. In the limited time I saw him in the big leagues, his control was wild, likely due to nerves. It has been better in minor league camp, though not to the point where I’d say any issues are behind him. Despite the control issues, he was able to take away some good things from camp.
“It’s beautiful,” Escobar said of his time in camp. “I feel very good, very happy. I faced good hitters, and saw a lot of veteran pitchers.”
He spent some time getting to know Ivan Nova and Francisco Cervelli, who both gave him some advice going forward.
“They say control your body, throw the ball where you want to throw it, and focus everywhere — in the bullpen, in the game,” Escobar said.
It won’t be that easy for Escobar. He’ll have to find a way to slow down his delivery, and keep his glove arm up solid above his waist so that he can repeat his mechanics. He’s got the stuff to be a very electric pitcher, and will put up plenty of strikeouts this year. The hope is that he can start slowing things down and fixing that control in order to at least reach an upside as an MLB starter one day, hopefully higher than a back of the rotation guy.
While they’re different pitchers, I’d expect a similar path as Glasnow, where Escobar puts up strong numbers throughout the lower levels, only to see a rough transition to the majors one day. For now, we’ll get to see the dominant numbers in Bradenton this year, with the hope that he can fix enough to make that eventual jump as smooth as possible.