(This post can also be seen on the forum of OriolesHangout.com)
DOB: 10/06/86 Age: 27
Hometown: La Guaira, Venezuela
Signed: Undrafted FA, Sept. 2004 by Rockies
Height: 6’4″ Weight: 235
Background: The Orioles signed Edgmer Escalona on November 20 to a one-year major league deal after impressing a couple O’s scouts during his Venezuelan Winter League starts. He’s best described as an inconsistent hard throwing right hander (Pedro Strop anyone?) who can work multiple innings. The Rockies were previously the only organization he’s known and they signed him as an 18 year old back in September of 2004. He made his professional debut with their DSL team in 2006. He pitched with great success at the short season, Low A, High A, and AA levels over the next three years, finding himself waiting in the wings at AAA as a 23 year old in 2010. Despite a rough looking 6.60 ERA at AAA in 2010 – mainly due to a grotesque 17 home runs allowed in 69 innings – Escalona received a September callup, making his MLB debut on September 3, 2010 with the Rockies. He bounced between AAA (where he pitched much more effectively) and the majors in 2011 and 2012.
It was a tale of two seasons in 2013 for Escalona. For the first time in his career he made an opening day roster and began the year on a roll, pitching to a 1.54 ERA while holding batters to a .216 average over his first 21.1 innings. His ERA inflated as he underwent several implosion outings in late May and early June before landing on the DL with elbow inflammation. Escalona continued to struggle to return to form upon return on July 2 as he pitched to a 9.93 ERA over his final 22.2 innings to finish with a 5.67 ERA in 46 innings pitched. The Rockies DFA’d Escalona on August 23 and outrighted him to AAA.
The Good: At 6’4″ and 235 pounds, the burly Escalona brings a fiery demeanor to the mound and attacks the strike zone with a two seam fastball that Fangraphs measured an average velocity of 94.4 MPH in 2013. The fastball has average life. He’ll also mix in a mid 80′s slider that can flash plus when at its best. Opposing batters have hit just .219 off the slider in his career. He carried a 40% groundball rate this season which is about major league average. Escalona also did a good job in a small sample with inherited baserunners, allowing just two out of thirteen to score in 2013.
Here are Dan Duquette’s thoughts: “He’s a big strong right-hander and has a good fastball,” Duquette said. “[He's] working on developing pitches he needs to get lefties out.”
Translation: Escalona has added a split finger changeup to his repertoire which in theory will help him get lefties out more consistently if the pitch progresses into a reliable major league offering. Apparently, he’s been having success with the pitch which played a big factor in the Orioles decision to take a flier on him.
Debatable whether this is good but I find this description from the SB Nation Rockies blog, Purple Row, both interesting and humorous: “I’m not sure how they didn’t play Aerosmith’s “Livin’ on the Edge” every time Edgmer Escalona came into a game at Coors Field this year, it was a pretty accurate description of how he pitched, whether it was on the edge of a fight, a walk, a three-run homer or a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts was the question, and, come on, the guy’s name is Edgmer.”
The Bad: Escalona has trouble with the lefties. In pretty much each statistical category across the board, his numbers are worse against left handed batters. Numbers that particularly drive home this point:
Career versus L: 6.65 FIP, 2.33 HR/9, 3.96 BB/9, and 5.59 K/9
Career versus R: 3.58 FIP, 0.88 HR/9, 2.20 BB/9, and 6.90 K/9
From what limited video I’ve watched, he does a good job of attacking the strike zone and working ahead against righties but is more prone to nibbling and falling behind in the count against lefties, something the BB/9 splits back up. He also has command slips with the fastball, sometimes struggling to keep it down in the zone which has led to gopher ball troubles, not a good attribute for a pitcher at Camden Yards as Tommy Hunter can attest to. He’ll also hang the slider on occasion and while the pitch is above average, it can be driven far, especially by lefties, if left up in the zone. Escalona is out of minor league options so, there’s a fair chance he won’t pitch at all with the Orioles in 2014 if he’s cut in March and doesn’t make it through waivers.
Overall Assessment: Good low-risk depth signing with more upside than you think
Escalona throws from 3/4 arm slot and his burly stature, fiery demeanor, arsenal of pitches and ability to work multiple innings seem strikingly similar to former Orioles righty Alfredo Simon. The key with Escalona will be how this newfound split finger changeup comes along between now and spring training. I’m not familiar with the level of competition in the Venezuelan Winter league but Escalona has been working with success as a starter this offseason, registering a 2.52 ERA in 46.1 innings over eight starts. According to Eduardo Encina, Orioles scouts attribute his success to the splitter and he has shockingly held lefties to just a .164 average in that league. In my opinion, Escalona has the upside of a late inning reliever for the Orioles in 2014 but continued development of a legitimate splitter as a lefty neutralizer (along with sharper command within the strike zone) will be crucial in determining whether Escalona reaches that upside or is put on waivers at the end of Spring Training.
(Thanks to Fangraphs, MLB.com, Baltimore Sun, and Purple Row for valuable info in putting this together)