Welcome to “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” — a countdown to Brewers Opening Day by way of jersey numbers being worn in Brewers big league Spring Training.
Normally in this series I profile the player who is wearing the number coinciding with the day by giving a brief scouting report, describing their physical characteristics, and talking about their game. All of that will still happen today, but the other thing I do is talk about their previous season to let you know how a player has been performing recently. That basically proves impossible today.
That’s because today’s player hasn’t pitched in the affiliated ball (what we call major league clubs and minor league affiliates of those clubs in MLB) since 2009, and that was just four total regular season games.
The player I’m talking is…
If the last name is familiar to Brewers fans, Kelvim José Escobar is indeed the cousin of former Brewers shortstop Alcides Escobar. The elder Escobar — Kelvim is 36 now — is not a shortstop but rather a pitcher. A few long years ago, he had reached the the upper echelon of starting pitchers in baseball. Then, like so many others who never approach the heights which he had attained, Escobar’s career was all but ended by injury.
But let’s take a couple of steps back and give you the brief synopsis of how Escobar’s career has played out to this point.
Escobar originally signed as an amateur in 1992 as a 16-year-old. The Venezuelan native first pitched stateside in 1994 and made his big league debut in 1997. A swingman type for most of his early career, Escobar’s best full seasons came as a full-time starting pitcher for the Angels of southern California, culminating in a 2007 season which saw Escobar post an 18-7 record, 3.40 ERA, and a 133 ERA+ over 195.2 innings pitched across 30 starts.
Even in 2007 though, the shoulder problems began to appear. Escobar made four consecutive poor starts starting on September 1st of the that year. He was then scratched from a pair of scheduled starts before making one final regular season appearance on September 29th, in which he pitched well and earned his 18th Win. He would make one postseason start as well that year.
But as he began his off-season throwing program, the shoulder began barking again. He was brought along slowly in camp in an effort to strengthen and solidify the shoulder after an initial MRI showed no structural damage. In fact, he didn’t even throw in camp for the first time until March 15th. Escobar was shut down within 10 days and then revealed that there was a tear in his shoulder that could require surgery. That surgery would like cost him the season, if not his career. At the time, Escobar was quoted as saying, “I’m concerned, I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t even know if I’ll be able to pitch again. I’m still young. I’ll be 32 in two weeks, but retirement is getting into my head, because it’s hard to rehab. I want to be out there playing, and I’ve done everything I can do to be healthy.”
He didn’t have surgery then and rehabbed his way to pitching some long relief stints. Escobar woke up on July 1st with an intense pain in the same spot as it was hurting back in March. This time, he decided to have the surgery to correct a torn labrum with an expected recovery time of 9-12 months. Escobar rehabbed from the surgery, experienced a setback of “shoulder tightness” in early April and was shut down for most of the month, made three official appearances in the minor leagues, and then finally was activated off of the disabled list in advance of a start on June 6, 2009. He threw 92 pitches over 5.0 full innings, striking out five though walking four.
Escobar has not pitched in affiliated ball since.
He made it through that game relatively healthy but it was decided that he would move to the bullpen due to lack of stamina in his shoulder. Then, when playing catch a short time later, he felt a pinching sensation in his surgically-repaired shoulder. He was shut down, worked on strengthening the shoulder, even signed a free agent deal with the New York Mets before the 2010 season with the idea of filling the role of setup man. He worked hard to fulfill that contract but his body simply said no.
There was talk each of the past three years about Escobar attempting a comeback. Though he has been unsuccessful each time, proven talent gets continued opportunity. In other words, because Escobar had done it, he’ll almost always be given a chance to show whether he can still do it.
The Brewers came calling after a strong, if brief, showing in the Venezuelan Winter League and positive medical reports. Escobar pitched in six games and posted a 1.64 ERA. He pitched a total of 11 innings, striking out eight and walking nine. Escobar did officially start two games for Los Cardenales de Lara, but the Brewers expect him to work exclusively out of the bullpen. Other than obviously staying healthy, the biggest question mark for Escobar in camp looks to be whether he can harness his control.
If he can do improve that control and demonstrate that he is healthy as camp winds down, Escobar could most definitely break camp with the Brewers and be introduced 45 days from today at Miller Park. Face it, if he’s healthy in late March and pitching well, wouldn’t you want to try to get some value out of him right away just in case the worst-case scenario unfolds?
Regardless, after the road he’s taken to get to this point, if he reaches that point I’ll be among the 43,000+ cheering loudly for his accomplishment when P.A. announcer Robb Edwards says “Number Forty-Five, Kelvim Escobar!”
This leg of his journey starts today, ironically on his profile day, as Escobar told me earlier this week that he was scheduled to report to Maryvale today.
¡Buena suerte, Kelvim!
You can follow Kelvim Escobar on Twitter, just beware of his late night retweet storms, and wish him luck: @kelvimescobar
Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:
- #46 Hiram Burgos
- #48 Donovan Hand
- #49 Yovani Gallardo
- #51 Michael Gonzalez
- #53 Brandon Kintzler
- #54 Josh Stinson
- #57 Khris Davis
- #58 Josh Prince
- #59 John Axford
- #60 Wily Peralta
- #61 Darren Byrd
- #63 Tyler Thornburg
- #64 Mike Fiers
- #65 Miguel De Los Santos
- #67 Santo Manzanillo
- #68 Jesus Sanchez
- #70 Nick Bucci
- #71 Johnny Hellweg
- #73 Ariel Peña
- #74 Michael Olmsted
- #75 Travis Webb
- #77 Jed Bradley
- #78 Taylor Jungmann
- BONUS ARTICLE: #91-94 Adam Weisenberger, Hunter Morris, Kentrail Davis, Rafael Neda