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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Back in 2007, the Giants attended a showcase in the Dominican Republic and their scouts wrote up strong reports about a 16-year-old from Venezuela.
They’d been tracking him for some time. He had a strong body, a live fastball and he was left-handed. They were going to take an aggressive run at signing Edwin Escobar.
There was one problem. The Texas Rangers were interested, too. They offered $300,000. And the scout waving the offer, Tom Wilkin, signed Escobar’s father, Jose, many years earlier. The Escobars went with the familiar face.
The international market is full of near misses, unkept promises and dashed hopes. You learn to get over them fast, to move onto the next kid and the next showcase. But losing Escobar stung. The Giants liked him as well as any young pitcher they scouted that year.
They liked him so much that they didn’t forget about him.
“I was pitching in the (rookie-level) Arizona League, getting ready to face the Giants,” recalled Escobar, now 21 and on the cusp of the majors. “And I heard their pitching coach, Mike Caldwell, talking to someone. He said the Giants were still looking at me, still hoped to trade for me.
“I know I had a pretty good start that day, too.”
Everyone likes to be in a place where they’re wanted. Escobar, standing at his locker in the Giants’ spring clubhouse, has no doubt he is wanted here.
Just a few months after Escobar finished a bit of a rocky season in for the Rangers’ rookie-level club, the Giants were able to swing a deal. They had lost a left-hander, Ben Snyder, to the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft. The Rangers orchestrated the pick and traded for Snyder. But at the end of the spring, Texas couldn’t keep him on its roster. The Rangers had to send him back to the Giants.
Rather than take back Snyder, the Giants offered to trade his rights. And they asked, ever so gently, about that young lefty who pitched in the Arizona League. The Rangers agreed.
Escobar didn’t move rapidly through the Giants’ system at first. He posted low walk totals wherever he went, but it took the better part of two years before his fastball was consistently in the low 90s again. He put on 10 pounds and is up to 215 now.
Last year at Single-A San Jose, as part of a prospect-laden rotation that included Kyle Crick, Adalberto Mejia, Clayton Blackburn and Ty Blach, Escobar was the only one jumped to Double-A Richmond. He had a 2.89 ERA in the Cal League. It was even lower in the Double-A Eastern League, down to 2.67. And he was hitting 94-95 mph on the scoreboard.
Giants GM Brian Sabean points to Escobar as a main source of rotation depth this season. Needless to say, the GM resisted several trade overtures for him over the winter.
Escobar has good feel for a changeup that he has confidence to throw in any count. He also throws a curve, uses a two-seamer and is learning to add and subtract with his four-seamer.
When does he feel his stuff will be ready for big league hitters?
“You know what? I feel ready right now,” said Escobar, who put in a few more innings for Cardenales in the Venezuelan League. “My last three games I started there, I felt ready for this level. I’m not just throwing like I used to. I know what I’m doing right now.”
His family knows perseverance, too. His father, Jose, an infielder, played 13 minor league seasons with four organizations before cracking the major leagues in 1991 when he had 17 plate appearances with the Cleveland Indians.
And Edwin’s cousin, Kelvim, was 101-91 with a 4.15 ERA over 12 seasons with the Blue Jays and Angels.
The Giants hope they don’t have to rush Escobar to the big leagues. But they feel his time is coming soon.
“He looks ahead of where he was last year, to be honest,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who stood with Sabean while watching Escobar throw a side session Monday. “He has a different look about him this spring. I think he sees he’s a guy who’s in the mix and also knocking on the door right now. He’s coming out of the chute throwing the ball better than last spring.”
The Giants like what they see from Escobar. They always have.