By Josh Boyd
December 11, 2001
BOSTON–Alex Escobar hit .310-27-91 with 49 stolen bases at Class A Capital City in 1998 and was anointed the Mets centerfielder of the future. His tools were beyond reproach and he was the Mets’ top position prospect for four consecutive years.
That all ended at the Winter Meetings Tuesday, as the Mets shipped Escobar to the Indians as part of an eight-player deal that brought second baseman Roberto Alomar to New York.
“Acquiring Alex Escobar was one of our primary objectives,” Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. “We weren’t even going to begin talking without their best position player being included.
“We are lacking upper-level position player prospects, so we had to artificially infuse it. He has one of the highest ceilings of any prospect, and our farm is limited in position player talent.”
Escobar, whose first two seasons were plagued with nagging injuries before his ’98 breakthrough, missed all but three games of the 1999 season with a lower back injury and a separated shoulder. The native of Venezuela, who signed with the Mets in 1995, responded with a healthy 2000 campaign, hitting .288-16-67 with 24 steals at Double-A Binghamton.
Escobar stayed healthy again in 2001 at Triple-A Norfolk but struggled to stay consistent, and his plate discipline, always an issue, regressed. After increasing his walk rate while slashing his strikeouts in 2000, he drew just 35 walks against 146 strikeouts in 2001. His lack of patience also contributed to a drop in power; Escobar hit just .267-12-52 in 397 at-bats for Triple-A Norfolk last year and .200-3-8 in 50 at-bats in New York. Against big league pitching, he had three walks and 19 strikeouts.
“The strikeouts are a concern,” Shapiro said. “But he has the tools. We spent a lot of time on him this year. Terry Francona (former Indians special assistant) and (scouting director) John Mirabelli sat on him. He showed glimpses of putting his tools package together.”
Escobar has shown all five tools, with hitting for average his weakest tool. A natural center fielder, he runs well and has a plus arm. He joins Milton Bradley, Russ Branyan, Brady Anderson and Ellis Burks in a revamped outfield that will lose Juan Gonzalez, Kenny Lofton and Marty Cordova to free agency this offseason.
Escobar and Bradley both have options remaining. Bradley is expected to replace Lofton in center field, and Shapiro didn’t rule out the possibility of Escobar making the roster.
The Mets also sent right fielder Matt Lawton, righthanded reliever Jerrod Riggan and two players to be named to Cleveland for Alomar, lefthander Mike Bacsik and 1996 first-rounder Danny Peoples.
The Mets and Indians completed the deal after the Rule 5 Draft as the Mets included first baseman Earl Snyder and lefthander Billy Traber.
A 2000 first-round pick out of Loyola Marymount, Traber had a tumultuous short stay with the Mets. A ligament problem in his throwing elbow discovered in his physical caused the Mets to pull back from their original $1.7 bonus offer; he signed for $400,000.
The No. 5 prospect in the organization, Traber went 10-9, 3.09 combined in 151 1/3 innings between the Class A Florida State League, Double-A and one Triple-A start. Traber uses an 89-91 mph fastball, above-average changeup and sharp split-finger fastball. The Mets wanted him to develop more of a changeup.
Snyder, 25, has hit 20 home runs in each of the last three minor league seasons. He hit .281-20-75 with 35 doubles for Double-A Binghamton in 2001 and can play first base, third base and the outfield. He hit 28 homers in 1999 at Class A Capital City and 25 for Class A St. Lucie in 2000.