If this were an exercise on name recognition, Alcides Escobar would mop the floor with Ian Desmond.
Which isn’t saying much, because no one even knows who the hell Alcides Escobar is except the fantasy baseball-playing population and the most sober of Brewers fans.
So let’s start out by determining who the hell Ian Desmond is.
After being drafted out of high school in the third round in 2004, Desmond’s been in the minor leagues so long that his organization moved countries.
For most of his pro career, Desmond, 24, has been better in the scout’s notebook than in the box scores. He’s a very good defensive shortstop, and at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he has a frame to grow into. It’s just that his potential combination of power and speed never really showed up on paper.
That is, until 2009’s 21-game cup of coffee with the Nationals. While playing a little second base and right field, and starting at short down the stretch, Desmond went off with 4 home runs, 7 doubles, a .280 average and a .879 OPS.
Remember, that’s in 21 games, which equates to a 32-HR, 56-doubles pace, if you like to be teased that way.
The power is emerging – he hit 11 dingers this year between levels, and had 12 in 2008 and 13 in ’07 (Wait, he’s trending downward!) And Desmond does have 106 steals in 542 minor league games (a 32-steal full-MLB-season pace).
And, remember, another power-speed late-bloomer, Hanley Ramirez, had never hit more than 8 HRs in a minor league season before going berserk in the bigs.
Now, to be fair, Ramirez had a career minor league average of .297 and Desmond’s is .247 – but Desmond did hit .330 across two levels and 97 games before his call-up this season, so maybe he’s figured things out.
I don’t know if Desmond will ever become a good everyday player in the majors, but it does seem like the 2010 shortstop gig is his to lose, and he has more upside than most at this paper-thin position.
And, for the purposes of this debate, it does seem like Escobar’s situation is more perilous.
Escobar, 22, does come with the blessings of scouts and the lofty rankings of Baseball America – Brewers’ No. 1 prospect in 2009 and 19th overall. (Desmond, by the way, doesn’t crack the top 100, and he’s not even in the Nationals’ top 10.)
And after getting called up halfway through the year, Escobar played a serviceable shortstop. The problem was, fantasy owners never received the abundance of stolen bases they were promised. (Just 4 SBs in 125 Abs – a measly 20-SB pace.)
He did hit .304, but as expected he was light on pop (1 home run) and sported a ho-hum BB-to-K ratio (4-18).
I know, it’s a small sampling. Over the last two seasons in the minors, after all, Escobar has put up a .315 average and 76 steals. At 6-foot-1, 180, he still has just a combined 12 homers in 976 at-bats and a 63-147 BB-to-K ratio, but you can deal with those shortcomings for Jose Reyes-lite.
The problem is, with Ken Macha as the Brewers manager, Escobar is not going to run wild like he did on the farm. And, unfortunately, Milwaukee just re-upped Macha for 2010.
So, potentially, with Escobar in 2010, instead of a Jose Reyes, you get a Cesar Izturis. Not even Maicer.
And Cesar Izturis (see: Escobar) still has to split time until the Brewers do the right thing and move J.J. Hardy to another position or another team.
After looking at the numbers for these two, I’m not going giddy over either of these shortstops. But when projecting for the long-term, you often have to give more weight to scouting than early-stage production.
I guess, if I had to choose one of these players to keep for a dynasty league (and, unfortunately, I do), I’d go with Escobar.
But not because he’s earned it.
It goes back to the name-recognition factor. I know if I leave him unprotected, my league competitors will scoop up Escobar as fast as he does a slow-roller.
However, I will save an earlier-than-expected draft pick for Desmond next year, just in case.