80 Outstanding (96+ MPH fastball, 88+ MPH slider, 82 MPH curveball) 70 Well above average (94-95 FB, 86-87 MPH SL, 80-81 MPH CB) 60 Above average (92-93 MPH FB, 84-85 MPH SL, 78-79 MPH CB) 50 Average (89-91 MPH FB, 82-84 MPH SL, 75-77 MPH CB) 40 Below average (86-88 MPH FB, 79-81 MPH SL, 73-75 MPH CB) 30 Well below average (83-85 MPH FB, 76-78 MPH SL, 71-72 MPH CB) 20 Poor (80-82 MPH FB, 71-75 MPH SL, 69-70 MPH CB)The righthanded Escobar (6-1, 230, Born 4/11/1976) was closing games in the majors at age 21. Brought along as a starter, he closed in 1997, was a swingman in 1998 and mostly started in 1999 (5.69 ERA) and 2000 (5.35). Toronto made him their closer in 2002, and his 38 saves ranked fifth in the AL. Anaheim signed him before the 2004 season and he has been in their rotation since. Escobar had hard luck in 2004 (11-12, 3.93 ERA) before bone spurs sabotaged 2005 (60 IP). The Angels didn't score for him again in 2006, as he went 11-14 with a 3.61 ERA (sixth in the AL). Signs of wear and tear cropped up in 2006, as Escobar had minor elbow, back and knee woes. Last year, Escobar missed time in April with shoulder irritation and was bothered by patella tendinitis in his knee all year. He pitched well until September (7.99 ERA), but did not appear as the Red Sox swept the Angels in the Division Series. Escobar apparently has his heart in the right place, as an ESPN.com story reported last year he helps fund a school in his native Venezuela.
Kelvim Escobar: (G/F 0.88) Rating: %Thrown: Fastball 60 50 Curveball 50 10 Slider 60 20 Splitter 70 20 Control 60 Delivery 50 Composure 55Escobar's well-above-average split-finger has received most of the attention since he broke into the majors more than a decade ago. Varying in velocity from 84-90 MPH, hitters have a hard time laying off it. His nagging injuries have not taken much from his fastball, which varies from 91-95 MPH. Escobar also throws a cutter in the high 80s. Escobar's two breaking balls help set him apart from most fastball-splitter pitchers. He controls his 85-88 MPH slider well, and it would be even more effective if it had more consistent movement. His 77-81 MPH curveball is solid but it doesn't look like he trusts it much. Escobar varies his pitch selection unpredictably, and he comes inside more often than hitters are used to seeing. He usually stays ahead of hitters and has a knack for pitching out of trouble. Batters are hitting only .220 off Escobar in his career with RISP and two outs. Escobar runs into trouble when he hangs his breaking pitches or splitter when tired. Despite his years as a reliever, he has had early-inning problems, with a career ERA of 5.32 in his first 30 pitches and 3.55 afterwards. The injury bug always seems to bite him each year, although he has avoided major arm surgery. Check on him in April, as he will be forgotten in many drafts but might sneak in 150 innings and 10-12 wins. --------------- The righthanded Blanton (6-3, 250, Born 12/11/1980) was the A's first-round pick in the 2002 draft, where he was compensation for the Yankees signing Jason Giambi. Oakland gave him nearly a full season in low Class a in his first full season (2003) and he dominated (2.57 ERA). Put on the fast track in 2004, Blanton went 11-8, 4.19 in the hitter-friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League, striking out 143 with 34 walks in 176 innings. Blanton then added a changeup to his repertoire made the most of his rookie year in 2005. The A's stuck with him while he posted a 13.25 May ERA, and at year's end he led all rookie starters in ERA (3.53) and finished second in innings (201 1/3). Blanton was hittable in 2006 (.309 average against) but racked up the wins, going 16-12, 4.82 in 194 1/3 innings. Blanton remained hittable on the road in 2007 (.304) but sparkled at home, posting a 2.69 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. Trade rumors have swirled around him since 2007 ended and Billy Beane began his latest rebuilding project. The Mets and Dodgers reportedly discussed Blanton before they landed Johan Santana and Hiroki Kuroda, and Cincinnati may still be in the hunt.
Joe Blanton: (G/F 0.97) Rating: %Thrown: Fastball 50 50 Curveball 55 20 Slider 50 10 Changeup 55 20 Control 70 Delivery 55 Composure 55Blanton has just average stuff, so he relies on his excellent control for success. He pitches like a veteran and has drawn comparisons to Rick Reuschel for playing on hitters' weaknesses and impatience. Blanton follows the general rule of serving young hitters breaking balls and challenging older hitters, yet he also mixes up this pattern. Batters aren't afraid to face him, yet they often head back to the bat rack 0-for-4. Blanton's 77-83 MPH changeup and 68-74 MPH curveball are his best pitches. He controls his changeup well, although he does get underneath and float it sometimes. Crucial for a control pitcher, he can locate his curve both in the strike zone or in the dirt. Blanton gets a lot of his strikeouts on location, and uses his 86-90 MPH fastball inside quite often. Either he varies the break on his 78-81 MPH slider, or it looks like a two-seamer he runs away from right-handers. Blanton hides the ball and repeats his motion well, and controls the tempo of the game. Blanton's stuff isn't good enough when he makes mistakes to quality hitters, who can reach him when they remain patient. Coming inside with average stuff is a high-wire act. There isn't much separation to his pitches, which can work to his disadvantage. Since he is aggressive, the game can get away from him in a hurry: batters are hitting .288 against him with runners on base. Blanton will win a lot more games if he continues to pitch half his games in cavernous McAfee Coliseum. Expect some downturn but continued innings if he is traded to a hitter's park. In two weeks: NL West: Matt Cain and Chris Young
Article first appeared 2/16/08