Former San Francisco Giants Prospect Edwin Escobar Heading to Japan’s NPB
Former Giants prospect Edwin Escobar is heading to the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s NPB on a 90 million yen ($780,000) deal for the 2017 season. What makes this deal relatively interesting is that Escobar will be only 25 in 2017, the second pitcher after Elvis Araujo, who signed with the Chunichi Dragons earlier this off-season, who will be only 25 in 2017 and expected to star immediately in NPB’s major leagues.
Escobar was one of the Giants top starting pitcher prospects in 2014, when they traded him at the trade deadline to the Boston Red Sox along with Heath Hembree for Jake Peavy. At the time, Escobar who was only 22 years old then and pitching with promise at AAA, was the prospect who seemed to have more upside. As it turned out Hembree has become a useful bullpen piece for the BoSox, while Escobar is moving on to Japan, because he had injury problems in 2015 and didn’t return strong in 2016.
Past history suggests that the ideal age for a North American player to start an Asian career is their age 27 season, and a majority of the North American players who head off to Asia are older than that when they go. In the last year or so, however, we have started to see more players under age 27 trying their luck in Asia, as the immediate rewards (next year’s salary) are greater in NPB or South Korea’s KBO, and North American players are beginning to feel that success in Asia can also be used as a spring-board to return to the MLB-system at some later date.
It will be interesting to see how Escobar and Araujo do in NPB in 2017. I would think that Araujo’s chances are better, as he has far more proven MLB experience and success. NPB is a good enough league, and the adjustments necessary to play NPB’s style of baseball and live in Japan are such, that foreign players as young as Escobar and Araujo have a hard time getting off to the fast start needed to stick in Asian baseball. I tend to think that players who are at least 27 as NPB or KBO rookies tend to do better in part because they are more experienced in professional baseball and more mature.
Still, Escobar’s and Araujo’s talent level appears to be high by the standards of North American players who go to play in Asia, and the experience of pitching in NPB, unless a total disaster, will probably be beneficial to their careers even if they return to the MLB system in 2018. Playing in a league that is roughly intermediate between AAA and the MLB majors is clearly more advantageous to a player’s development than another season spent almost entirely at AAA.
More typical of the North American players who go to Asia is the 33 year old Alexi Ogando, who just signed a $1.8 million deal with the KBO’s Hanwha Eagles. Ogando has the proven MLB track record that earned him what is to date the second highest contract amount for a foreign player in the KBO’s history (Esmil Rodgers signed a $1.9M contract before the 2016 season). Howwever, I think that the Eagles overpaid for Ogando by at least $300,000, as Ogando’s 2016 performance in MLB and at AAA strongly suggest a pitcher with not a lot left in the tank and with very little chance indeed of receiving a major league contract for 2017.
Ogando will almost certainly be used as a starter in the KBO, since KBO teams don’t pay this kind of money for relievers. We’ll have to wait and see how he does.