Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Yunel Escobar

Fantasy KnuckleheadsCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2011

DUNEDIN, FL - FEBRUARY 20:  Yunel Escobar #5 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses during photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium on February 20, 2011 in Dunedin, Florida.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Before we get to my subject for the article, we’re going to take a look at Rockies stud shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

In 2007, he broke out and put his name on the map by hitting .291/.359/.479, 24 home runs, and stealing 7 bases. He battled injuries and a nasty slump in 2008, playing just 101 games and managing a .263/.332/.401 line with eight homers and 46 RBI.

The next year, Tulowitzki got back on the map again, belting 32 home runs, swiping 20 bags, and hitting .297/.377/.552 with a .930 OPS.

Heading into the 2010 season, many wondered whether Tulowitzki was the injury prone clunker from 2008 or the super stud from 2007 and 2009.

With stand-out seasons in 2007, and 2009, the more savvy fantasy baseball owners decided he was the stud player, and in 2010 Tulo improved his slash line to .315/.381/.568 while blasting 27 long balls and driving in 95, providing the final answer as to whether 2008 or 2009 was an outlier in his stats.

Now let’s look to former Atlanta Brave and current Toronto Blue Jay Yunel Escobar.

Whether or not you bet on Escobar depends on one question: Who is Yunel Escobar? Is he the guy who hit .301 from 2007-2009, or the guy who it .256 in 2010?

In his only two seasons of 500+ at-bats, 2008 and 2009, Escobar hit an aggregate .294/.371/.418 with a .790 OPS, 24 homers, and 136 RBI. With 116 walks to 121 strikeouts, Escobar showed a great eye for the strike zone, and his young age (these were his age 25-26 seasons) and good glove guaranteed him airtight job security.

In 2010, Escobar got off to a slow start and wound up in manager Bobby Cox’s doghouse, and after performing miserably in the first two months he finally picked up the pace in June. After a much needed change of scenery, Escobar hit .275/.340/.356, bringing his season totals up to .256/.337/.318 with four home runs and 35 RBI.

Compare this to his career average of .289/.364/.397, 11 HR, and 64 RBI per season, and it’s not hard to spot to anomaly here. With a fresh start to be had with a potent Toronto lineup, expect Escobar to trend back towards his career norms in 2011, and at age 27, it is possible he might improve a little bit.

We all know playing in Toronto worked wonders for Alex Gonzalez’ and Jose Bautista’s power numbers last year, so who knows.

While Aaron Hill was brought up as a shortstop, concerns about his arm and defense led to a permanent shift to second base, and with John McDonald aboard as no more than a defensive fill in (he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat), Escobar has a very safe job with the Blue Jays even if he struggles out of the gate again.

However, the law of averages says that he probably won’t—that is unless Escobar’s 2008 and 2009 years end up being the flukes in his grand scheme of things. However, since extrapolation is not a reliable or beneficial method of procuring stats, I’m going to stick with Escobar’s existing track record instead of worrying about his prospects going forward.

For all practical purposes, this makes a great deal of sense, and if you don’t want to overpay for Alexei Ramirez at shortstop or don’t quite trust sleeper candidate Reid Brignac, then don’t be afraid to take a bet on Escobar bouncing back this year.

With his 223 ADP, he is a bargain in virtually all formats of fantasy baseball, but owners in AL-only leagues should especially keep an eye on him.

He should substantially outperform similarly or higher ranked shortstops Asdurbal Caberera (ADP: 220), Alcides Escobar (ADP: 203), and Starlin Castro (ADP: 163), so don’t worry if you miss out on getting an elite player for your shortstop hole.

Don’t overpay for one category guys like Erick Aybar or Elvis Andrus, and certainly don’t invest significantly in Derek Jeter or Jimmy Rollins. Instead, sit back and coast until the later rounds and fill the need with Escobar.

Just keep in mind, just like Tulowitzki before 2010, everyone will be torn on which guy they think Yunel Escobar is. Tulowitzki ended up proving his doubters wrong the past two seasons, and it’s a solid bet that Escobar answers the same concerns about his game with a solid bounce back this year as well.

As a bargain pickup in fantasy baseball drafts, why not take that bet?

2011 projected stats: .284 AVG, 10 HR, 54 RBI, 5 SB, 76 Runs