The Atlanta Braves pretty much answered this question with the October 29th trade of Edgar Renteria to the Detroit Tigers. They believe that Yunel Escobar, in fact, can take over as the everyday shortstop, or they never would have traded an All-Star caliber player in Renteria.
Escobar pretty much proved throughout his rookie season that he deserved the chance to be an everyday player. He shined from the moment he was brought up on June 3rd, and he gained the respect of his teammates with his hard-nosed play and solid work habits.
The Cuban defector filled in for third baseman Chipper Jones, and then Braves’ Manager Bobby Cox decided to give him some work at second base – mainly to get Escobar in the lineup. He platooned for part of the summer with Kelly Johnson, and then when Renteria got hurt Escobar played full-time at his natural position of shortstop.
The results were outstanding: .326 batting average, 5 home runs, 28 RBI, 104 hits in 319 at bats, 25 doubles, 5 stolen bases, a .385 on base percentage.
When the Braves drafted Escobar in the 2005 draft, they compared him to a young Edgar Renteria-type player. That was six months before the team acquired Renteria from the Boston Red Sox. Little did they know that Renteria would be able to groom Escobar, and that eventually the pupil would take over for the teacher.
Escobar has a chance to be a very similar player to Renteria. The defense may be a bit better, but when Renteria was Escobar’s age he was arguably the same type of player to a tee. Escobar’s range is solid, but the arm is what sets him apart from even Renteria. It’s not Rafael Furcal-like, but it’s still very, very good.
Offensively, it’s clearly obvious that Escobar has a shot at being maybe even better than Renteria, and that’s saying something. Escobar seems to put the ball in play every time at bat, and there are not many bad at bats for the right-handed hitter.
It will be interesting to see where Cox placed Escobar in the lineup. He actually did better as the leadoff man (.351 batting average, .400 OBP) than Kelly Johnson (.268, .372). So Escobar could hit first, or second (where he hit .279 - .329 OBP) and replace Renteria in that spot. That might depend on if the Braves get a speedy outfielder to leadoff for next season.
The Braves are confident that no matter where Escobar hits that he’s going to hit. He looked like a machine out there at times this past season, which made the Braves very comfortable in not only trading Renteria in October but also Elvis Andrus in July in the Mark Teixeira trade. Andrus was a top prospect, but with Escobar making his way in the big leagues, it was unlikely Andrus would have gotten a chance in Atlanta.
So shortstop now belongs to Yunel Escobar, and the Braves believe they have a player that can fit right in with Phillies’ shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Mets’ shortstop Jose Reyes and become one of the top players in the National League.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.