The Brewers Add Another Upgrade to Their Infield

The Brewers have built a commanding lead in the NL Central, with a 7 1/2-game advantage over second-place Cincinnati. The team is being carried by the best starting rotation in baseball and a solid bullpen, the second-best run prevention unit in baseball behind the Giants. The offense is far less impressive, having scored just 4.4 runs per game this year with a wRC+ of 90 that ranks 22nd in the majors. Milwaukee’s pitching staff is more than good enough to carry it into the playoffs, so the front office has been focused on bringing in reinforcements to help the lineup. The team had already acquired Willy Adames and Rowdy Tellez in separate trades earlier this season. On Wednesday, it added another infielder to the mix, agreeing to a trade for Eduardo Escobar and sending two prospects, catcher/infielder Cooper Hummel and infielder Alberto Ciprian, to Arizona in exchange.

Escobar is in the last season of a three-year deal he signed back in 2019, and with the Diamondbacks’ 2021 a total loss, he was an obvious candidate to be moved; the only question was where. The White Sox had been connected to him a little earlier this month, but a finalized deal never materialized. Instead, the Brewers swooped in and added the versatile infielder to their roster.

The switch-hitter is in the midst of a resurgent season. From 2017 to ‘19, Escobar hit 79 home runs, posted a wRC+ of 108, and accumulated 8.8 WAR for the Twins and Diamondbacks. Things fell apart last year, though, as his power dried up and his wRC+ fell to 56. He’s gone back to normal this year, with 22 home runs, a wRC+ back up to 105, and the Diamondbacks’ lone All-Star roster spot a few weeks ago. Under the hood, his batted ball peripherals look like they’re intact from or improved on his peak.

Eduardo Escobar, Batted Ball Peripherals
Years K% BB% ISO Avg EV Max EV Hard Hit% Barrel%
2017-2019 19.4% 7.4% 0.221 87.0 108.8 29.8% 7.2%
2020 18.5% 6.8% 0.123 88.6 106.7 31.7% 5.5%
2021 21.3% 7.2% 0.232 87.5 108.6 35.0% 9.8%

All that power that had escaped last season is back this year, and he’s increased his hard-hit rate and barrel rate, which has helped him offset a slight uptick in strikeout rate. On top of that, Escobar’s fly ball rate is pushing 50% for the first time in his career, and he’s pulling the ball more often than ever — and that batted ball profile stays consistent no matter which side he’s hitting from.

The strikeout rate is a bit concerning —at 21.3%, it’s a new career high — but there are some positive signs. His chase rate is down seven points to a career low of 28.4%, and his swing rate has dropped as well. With two strikes, that slightly more passive approach has resulted in a few more backwards Ks; his swing rate with two strikes sat around 65% from 2017 to ’19 but dropped to 62.8 last year and is down to 62.4 this year. That’s taken his strikeout looking percentage from 16.4% during that ’17–19 span to roughly one in five. It’s not a huge red flag — more like something to keep an eye on — but everything else about his profile looks like he simply continued on from 2019 as if last year never happened.

With Escobar in the fold, the Brewers now have an infield corps that they can mix and match to find the best matchups. It sounds like he’ll be used at first base some — a position he’s never played in his career — while providing some flexibility at all the other infield positions and even in the outfield. Because he’s a switch-hitter, he can pair up with any number of players in the Brewers’ lineup as a super-utility player.

Brewers Infielders
Player Pos Bats PAs wRC+
Rowdy Tellez 1B L 191 91
Kolten Wong 2B L 258 121
Willy Adames SS R 384 117
Luis Urías 3B R 372 104
Eduardo Escobar Util S 400 105
Jace Peterson Util L 161 113
Daniel Vogelbach 1B L 198 94
Keston Hiura 1B/2B R 192 55
Peterson and Vogelbach both on the IL currently.

It’s a nice problem to have when you’re forced to find at-bats for an above-average hitter. That kind of depth is critical, especially since Wong has already taken two trips to the IL this year and Hiura can’t seem to find his hitting stroke. With Wong and Adames entrenched up the middle and Urías in the middle of a breakout, Escobar will likely find most of his at-bats at first (which is bad news for Hiura, who’d been playing there semi-regularly in late June and early July but has seen his playing time vanish in the last two weeks) or possibly in left field, where Jackie Bradley Jr. and his 50 wRC+ clearly isn’t working out.

Hailing from both ends of the prospect spectrum, Hummel and Ciprian are the return for the Diamondbacks. The former is already 26 years old and was left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft last winter. He’s hit well throughout his minor league career with time at first base, both corner outfield positions and even catcher and has posted an excellent 152 wRC+ in Triple-A this year, cutting his strikeout rate down to 15.5% and walking 24.4% of the time. Hummel has little else to prove in the minors, and with some real pop in his bat and that kind of positional flexibility, he could see some time in Arizona soon. His bat is his carrying tool, though, so the Diamondbacks will need to find somewhere to put him to take advantage of that power.

Ciprian is much further away from the majors. The 18-year-old signed during the 2019–20 international signing period with a $500,000 bonus and made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League this year, hitting .378/.465/.514. Scouts loved his above-average raw power and explosive bat speed, and he has the arm and the offensive profile to stick at third base, though he’s still a few years away at least from likely making an impact.

Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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1 year ago

Been a tale of two seasons for the Brewers offense. 83 wRC+ / 3.66 runs in the 44 games before the Adames trade vs 106 wRC+ / 5.07 runs in the 58 games since.

Even crazier, the Brewers dealt two MLB relievers for Willy, yet their bullpen has improved even more drastically than the offense with a 4.59 ERA / 4.83 FIP before the trade vs a 2.86 ERA / 3.89 FIP since.

1 year ago
Reply to  grandbranyan

I think the Brewers also got healthier after the Adames trade but having him is a hugr factor in saving the Brewers’ season. And, as far as I’m concerned, turned their fortunes over the next few years from “wasting Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff” into “this team should be in buy mode.” What an enormous change in fortunes. I’d be all in on a first baseman (Carlos Santana, maybe?) and another arm (Mike Minor, maybe?) just to shore up the few remaining weaknesses. Maybe a bullpen arm for the 7th inning, too. That would turn this team into a legitimate title contender.

Ball in Glove
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The Brewers did not get healthier after Adames arrived. Cain on the IL, Wong on the IL, Yelich on the IL, Shaw on the IL, Vogelbach on the IL…the real reason for the switch flipping on the offense was Adames. His arrival and the injury/poor performance of Shaw, allowed the full time move to 3rd of Urias. He is more comfortable there defensively and his offense improved. Urias is a 114 wRC+ since 5/22. Avi Garcia has a 114 wRC+ since the trade. He and Willy are close friends from their Rays days. Adames has a 142 WRC+ with the Crew.

Return to health didn’t drive this improvement. One could argue that injuries actually improved the team. Willy’s ability to steady the SS spot has allowed all of the other pieces to form a pretty puzzle right now. Escobar will do nothing but improve this offense. I am forecasting at least an NLCS visit for the Crew vs the winner of the NL West tourney.