Yunel Escobar flourishing in leadoff role through first week of season
When the Los Angeles Angels entered the offseason last October, it was understood that some of the holes they needed to fill for 2016 included the hot corner and a bona fide leadoff hitter.
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They got both when they traded reliever Trevor Gott to the Washington Nationals for 33-year-old Yunel Escobar.
Escobar, a career .281-hitter, was fresh off one of his best seasons at the plate and was also viewed as someone who could provide some veteran mentor-ship in the Angels clubhouse.
The third base job seemed to be his to lose as soon as he was put on payroll.
And he’s been rolling with it so far.
When the Angels started spring training last month, Mike Scioscia penciled Escobar into the leadoff role in one of his first games in Tempe as nothing more than an experiment.
“We definitely want to see if Yunel can get comfortable in the No. 1 hole,” Scioscia told the Orange County Register. “He’s hit there before.”
So far, the experiment’s worked.
Escobar is one of only a few Angels that hasn’t started the season sluggish, racking up 11 hits in his first nine games, second only to Kole Calhoun‘s 12.
“When he gets his pitch, he turns it loose and hits the ball hard. He’s going to bring something very needed in our lineup.” -Mike Scioscia
He also hit the first home run of 2016 for the Angels and leads the team with four doubles, five walks and six runs scored.
Escobar’s success has translated to a .390 on-base-percentage and that’s where the Angels must be the most happy because it’s exactly where they faltered last season — they didn’t have any solid contact hitters ahead of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to get on base for RBI opportunities.
When the Angels went after Escobar in the Gott trade, they were well-aware of his OBP and thought him the man to help fix that.
“He’s a good contact hitter, I like his approach,” Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times this month. “He’s not going to expand the strike zone very often. When he gets his pitch, he turns it loose and hits the ball hard. He’s going to bring something very needed in our lineup.”
So far, he’s answered the call.
The consensus lineup appears to be Escobar at the top, followed by either Daniel Nava (4-for-13 this year) or Craig Gentry (4-for-17), and then Trout, Pujols, and Calhoun.
The Angels have won four-straight but that’s more thanks to great pitching and timely hitting because the offense still hasn’t woken up entirely.
Trout has struck out a team-high 10 times, Pujols is hitting .176 and C.J. Cron is hitting .103 (3-for-29).
They’ll wake up soon (we hope) and when they do, Escobar will be on base waiting.