Dozier, Escobar and Pressly: Legacies of Self-Made Stars
Image courtesy of Dan Hamilton and Orlando Ramirez, USA TODAY SportsWhile rising through the minors, these three now-former Twins never graced the higher ends of top prospect lists. Each has his own rags-to-riches backstory that should inspire any underdog out there toiling away in perpetuity.
Let's run through a quick retrospective on each.
BRIAN DOZIER'S TRANSFORMATION FROM TWEENER TO TREASURE
If it seemed like Dozier always had a bit of a chip on his shoulder, who could blame him? Back in 2009, he fell to the eighth round of the draft despite a prolific collegiate career at Southern Miss. "Scouts saw Dozier's tools as average in most respects and he was generally projected as a utility player or strong organizational talent," recalls John Sickels.
During his first few years as a pro, Dozier looked the part. To give you an idea of how he was viewed in 2011, Seth had him ranked as the 44th-best Twins prospect. Dozier's stock rose that summer with a strong showing between Fort Myers and New Britain, but he was still hardly viewed as a top-tier talent by the time he reached Minnesota in 2012.
Alas, three years later he was an All-Star. Then in 2016 he set the all-time AL record for home runs by a second baseman. And from '14 through '17 he produced the 13th-most WAR among all hitters in baseball.
Good ol' No. 2 departs as an indelible figure in franchise lore. In his book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments that Made the Minnesota Twins (which I highly recommend), Aaron Gleeman ranked Dozier as the 30th-best player in the team history, calling him "literally the only slugging second baseman in the history of the Twins."
It must've been a surreal chapter for my guy AG to write, five years after profiling Dozier as a prospect and dinging the infielder's "iffy" power potential and shaky defense at shortstop. "Even as a singles-hitting second baseman Dozier would be plenty useful," Gleeman had noted.
Now, this is not by any means meant to drag Aaron, because I viewed Dozier the same way at that point and so did most others. The guy had hit 14 total home runs in 317 minor-league games.
But through steady work, and the honing of a mousetrap-like swing, Dozier developed into one of the game's most deadly pull hitters, joining Harmon Killebrew in the ranks of Minnesota single-season home run royalty.
It took Dozier 126 games to hit his first professional home run. It took him one to launch his first as a Los Angeles Dodger. In the context of his unlikely ascent, a glorious sight to behold:
EDUARDO ESCOBAR'S CAREER THAT ALMOST WASN'T
Back in June, Mike Berardino wrote a great story in the Pioneer Press recounting Ozzie Guillen's discovery of Escobar on a back field in Tucson 10 years ago. At the time, Escobar was a scrawny 19-year-old backup shortstop, on the verge of being released. As the story goes, a highly impressed Guillen went to bat for him with Kenny Williams, and persuaded the general manager to give Escobar a real shot.
The young infielder would go on to glance the fringe of Baseball Prospectus' Top 101 list in 2011, at No. 91, his only appearance in any prominent national rankings. Around the same time, Minor League Ball pegged him as the seventh-best talent in the White Sox system: "Great glove," wrote Sickels, "but will he hit enough for it to be relevant?"
The Venezuela native made his big-league debut that season, then played sporadically over the first half of 2012 before being shipped to Minnesota alongside fellow countryman Pedro Hernandez for two months of Liriano (the bad version).
Escobar posted a meager .628 OPS in his first full season with the Twins, resembling very much the no-bat utility man of billing. Then in 2014, out of nowhere, he hit 35 doubles. And in 2015 he added 31 more, plus 12 bombs. Last year Escobar clubbed 21 home runs and this year he leads baseball in doubles.
His defense has deteriorated and he's no longer really viable at short, but now, he's hitting enough to make that irrelevant.
RYAN PRESSLY POWERS UP
Midway through the 2012 season, Pressly's fledgling career was at risk of running off the rails. The former 11th-round pick was taking his second shot at the High-A Carolina League at age 23, and floundering with a 6.28 ERA through 76 innings.
In July, Ben Cherington's Red Sox made a decision that looks outrageously savvy in retrospect: they promoted Pressly to Double-A, despite his immense struggles, and converted him to full-time relief duties. Pressly turned in a 2.93 ERA over 28 innings the rest of the way, although it came with a modest 6.8 K/9 rate.
He'd go on to post an 18-to-1 K/BB ratio in the Arizona Fall League, and that was all the Twins needed to see. They took him in the Rule 5 draft after three other teams passed him up.
"He's always had a good arm," acknowledged Boston's scouting director Jared Porter at the time. "He's got good stuff."
Of course, the arm and stuff weren't deemed good enough to warrant a 40-man roster spot, which is why the Twins were able to snag Pressly away. Porter surely didn't envision how far along that arsenal would come over the next five years.
During his first season with the Twins, Pressly wasn't an especially impressive reliever, posting mediocre strikeout and walk rates with a so-so FB/CB combo. But with each successive season, the righty added velocity and learned to harness his innate ability to spin the ball, with results following suit. In six MLB campaigns his swinging strike rate has gone from 7.8% to 8.5% to 9.0% to 11.7% to 12.2% to 17.6%.
He's now in elite range, with that 2018 mark ranking as the fifth-best in baseball, and this made Pressly a hot commodity – the most coveted of pieces sold by Minnesota at the deadline, netting the organization a legitimate top prospect in Jorge Alcala.
Who would've guessed it when he was a middling 23-year-old starter in Single-A?
What's the point of these look-backs? Well, for one, it's nice to reflect on three of the most unlikely and inspiring Twins careers in recent memory. But also, I think it's instructive.
No, the prospect bounty yielded by Minnesota's array of deadline trades wouldn't be considered top-tier. Outside of Alcala, none of the players received really have much hype beyond the occasional advocate or prospect hound. But neither did Dozier, or Escobar, or Pressly.
In fact, Escobar came over in a deal quite similar to several just now orchestrated by Minnesota — a package of unheralded minor-leaguers acquired in for a two-month rental.
So as we look at the collective talent amassed during the front office's deadline purge, we'd do well to keep these case studies in mind.
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