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Article: Dozier, Escobar and Pressly: Legacies of Self-Made Stars

brian dozier eduardo escobar ryan pressly
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 07 August 2018 - 06:59 PM

In many ways, the three are nothing alike.

Brian Dozier, Eduardo Escobar and Ryan Pressly – all sent packing in deadline deals as the Twins pulled off their most unequivocal midseason 'sell' in memory – have their own distinct profiles and personalities. Each came to Minnesota by different (modest) means: Dozier an eighth-round draft pick, Escobar a nondescript trade return for Francisco Liriano, Pressly a Rule 5 addition.

But the trio does have this much in the common: none were supposed to be this good.While 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?

LESSONS LEARNED

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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#2 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 07 August 2018 - 07:16 PM

I remember AJ Pierzinsky basically said we got a winner in Escobar when he was traded to us... I don't remember the exact quote, but he was highly complementary of him. 

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#3 Seth Stohs

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Posted 07 August 2018 - 09:50 PM

I like this look back... Iknow as I do my rankings and I think about players, I try to think of what their strengths are and how they might be utilized in the big leagues. There are players that don't make my (or other) Twins Top30s that could make it to the big leagues, and I think that's important to remember. As long as they haven't been released, maybe there's a chance. That'swhat the Escobar story tells us. It's fun to see "non-prospects" make it, and become good. 

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#4 Blackjack

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 05:49 AM

After we got back the eleven prospects at the trade deadline, I kept wondering why Falvine didn't try to get back one higher ranked prospect in each trade vs two lower ranked prospects that had a minimal chance of making the majors.

 

This article gives us hope that one or two will succeed.

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#5 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 05:55 AM

 

I like this look back... Iknow as I do my rankings and I think about players, I try to think of what their strengths are and how they might be utilized in the big leagues. There are players that don't make my (or other) Twins Top30s that could make it to the big leagues, and I think that's important to remember. As long as they haven't been released, maybe there's a chance. That'swhat the Escobar story tells us. It's fun to see "non-prospects" make it, and become good. 

 

This article is a really good reason why I liked their approach with these prospects. They grabbed a bunch of guys who were being successful. Some are legit prospects and some are definitely fringe. But all 3 of the guys highlighted in Nick's piece would have qualified as fringe who were able to turn themselves into above average major leaguers. 

 

We picked up 11 guys at the deadline. If one goes on and has a career like these guys, the team will be fine. 

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#6 tarheeltwinsfan

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 07:20 AM

Thanks Nick. A wonderful article which helps me say goodbye to 3 "old friends". Thanks also to Brian, Eduardo, and Ryan for the many wonderful memories and best wishes to all 3.

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#7 wavedog

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 07:45 AM

Great review on these guys - thanks for posting.I am now interested in what led them to improve and can that be replicated with some of our other prospects- were they helped along with coaches that believed in them - was it self driven improvement - or maybe a natural maturing that comes with age.Guillen certainly believed in Escobar but his improvement came after coming over to the Twins.In any case credit to these guys for turning around their career - they can certainly be proud of their success.

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#8 Doctor Wu

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 08:01 AM

Obviously all three players exceeded expectations and became valuable members of the team. I think one big key was that the team was patient with each of them and gave them enough opportunities to stick on the big league team, without subjecting them to the yo-yo-ing ride to AAA and back again the whole time.


#9 Nick Nelson

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 08:19 AM

I just noticed that for some reason none of the links made it into the original version of this post. Apologies to the authors whose work was cited. They've now been added.


#10 Thrylos

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 08:50 AM

I definitely get the point of the article that some of the secondary prospects the Twins received in the recent trades might produce more than it might look at this stage of their careers.Totally get that, and I hope that's the case.

 

That said,Dozier, Escobar, and esp. Pressly, are far away from being characterized as "stars".If someone were to open a box of 2018 baseball cards, despite that one singe All Star season among them, all of their cards will go to the common and not the star pile. Very useful players, esp. the infielders, but no stars.The two younger ones have the time to become stars maybe, but chances are slim.Is Eduardo Nunez a star?

Edited by Thrylos, 08 August 2018 - 08:50 AM.

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#11 Han Joelo

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 09:28 AM

Great article.  Should be required reading for any young wannabe. Not sure about Pressly, but Esco and Dozier both have "it"--something about them that makes others stick with them just a little longer.

 

All three of these guys could've seen their careers snuffed out a long time ago, but a combination of tenacity and timing worked in their favor.

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#12 spycake

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 10:18 AM

 

We picked up 11 guys at the deadline. If one goes on and has a career like these guys, the team will be fine. 

Or at least, we can trade them away in another lost season in 5-6 years!

 

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#13 Twins33

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 03:29 PM

After we got back the eleven prospects at the trade deadline, I kept wondering why Falvine didn't try to get back one higher ranked prospect in each trade vs two lower ranked prospects that had a minimal chance of making the majors.
 
This article gives us hope that one or two will succeed.

The only problem I have with this comment is the "why didn't they try to get back one higher rated prospect" part. We have no idea what they did or didn't try. They probably, or hopefully, did try. They just didn't succeed. The other teams have a say in the trades as well. And they can easily say no if they want to. I don't think any team was desperate for the Twins players they received.

I thought the Twins got more back than I personally expected in most of the trades.
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#14 Monkeypaws

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 05:29 PM

Baseball is great in that tanking for a pick is pretty much impossible. In hockey they often have slogans like"Fail for Nail, Play Bad for Ekblad, Fall for Hall," for the trophy players that often pop up at #1 overall (failing for Nail was a fail). There are so many ways to acquire players, and the learning curve can be long. You never know where a potential star may lurk.

 

It can happen in hockey as well, but the odds are much more slim.

 

Basketball, what do they have, 3 rounds or so?

 

Development and good scouting are gold in MLB.


#15 Brock Beauchamp

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 07:46 PM

Great article, but it fails to mention one kinda important point:

 

all three of these players took their licks at the MLB level and improved season-over-season. It took them time to get to where they ended up.

 

They're great stories and the kind of baseball stuff I love to see but the current Twins team can't afford the same luxuries as the past 90+ loss teams that fostered these talents.

 

With that said, the point is still salient about picking up a load of middling prospects in hopes a couple of them turn into something special (it'd just be nice if they managed to do it before they hit MLB and floundered for a couple of seasons).

 

I like the "inch deep and a mile wide" strategy for picking up these kinds of prospects but if you have a bunch of fence-riders, you'll end up opening yourself to be the victim of some ugly Rule V drafts in the relatively near future. You're going to lose guys you want to keep but aren't good enough to nudge their way past your MLB 25-man and the prospects you really need to keep.

 

But if the front office has a plan and that plan leads to contention, that problem can be "fixed" pretty easily by trading off those fringe 40-man players before it becomes a problem.

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#16 TheLeviathan

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 09:48 PM

 

 

They're great stories and the kind of baseball stuff I love to see but the current Twins team can't afford the same luxuries as the past 90+ loss teams that fostered these talents.

 

I don't know, aren't there good teams every year that find a way to bring their players along through struggles even while they are contending? Cleveland stuck with Lonnie Chisenhall and Trevor Bauer.Arizona stuck with Peralta.If I wanted to keep digging I'm sure I could come up with some more.

 

Patience is so key with development and sometimes the immediate sacrifices can be worth it.

Edited by TheLeviathan, 08 August 2018 - 09:50 PM.


#17 USAFChief

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 09:57 PM

I don't know, aren't there good teams every year that find a way to bring their players along through struggles?Cleveland stuck with Lonnie Chisenhall and Trevor Bauer.Arizona stuck with Peralta.If I wanted to keep digging I'm sure I could come up with some more.
 
Patience is so key with development and sometimes the immediate sacrifices can be worth it.


The trick, of course, is in knowing who to show patience with. There was no upside in showing patience with Alexi Casilla, for example, but we got half a decade of repeated attempts to put him in the lineup, with few other options. What were they hoping Casilla could turn in to?

And of course, to be both a good team and show patience, you have to have enough well above average players to make up for the below average production from the guy(s) you’re being patient with.
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#18 TheLeviathan

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Posted 08 August 2018 - 10:16 PM

 

The trick, of course, is in knowing who to show patience with. There was no upside in showing patience with Alexi Casilla, for example, but we got half a decade of repeated attempts to put him in the lineup, with few other options. What were they hoping Casilla could turn in to?

And of course, to be both a good team and show patience, you have to have enough well above average players to make up for the below average production from the guy(s) you’re being patient with.

 

Absolutely, I just think the idea you can't compete and offer opportunities isn't mutually exclusive.Just, as you said, you need to pick the right spots.

 

Players, and playing time, are investments.Just like other investments, you need to be sharp about when and where you choose to invest.(Or not)

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#19 diehardtwinsfan

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Posted 09 August 2018 - 05:29 AM

 

The trick, of course, is in knowing who to show patience with. There was no upside in showing patience with Alexi Casilla, for example, but we got half a decade of repeated attempts to put him in the lineup, with few other options. What were they hoping Casilla could turn in to?

And of course, to be both a good team and show patience, you have to have enough well above average players to make up for the below average production from the guy(s) you’re being patient with.

 

Casilla…. there's a name I haven't though of in a while... speaking of this theme and unwarranted patience. Didn't he replace Luis Rivas. 

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#20 Riverbrian

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Posted 09 August 2018 - 06:27 AM

Only once was Escobar named a starter going into a season, including this year. If Polanco wasn't suspended he wouldn't have been the opening day starter. 

 

Now... I don't believe in the significance of a "starting 9" so I'm OK with this but I know the Twins do believe in "a starting 9" based upon how they deploy. 

 

If Escobar is a star... the Twins didn't realize it. 

 

While Brian Dozier was struggling to become who he eventually became... he managed to hold off the advancing charge of Jamey Carroll and Doug Bernier. 

 

It does take a little patience to find these types of guys and I am all for as much patience as you can afford.

 

But in the Twins case... I don't call it patience. I call it the embrace of the mediocre and the refusal to identify someone better. 

 

A Skeleton walks into a bar and says... "Give me a beer... And a mop".

 

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