ESCOBAR, YUNEL  
 
Image of    Nickname:   N/A Position:   SS
Home: N/A Team:   RAYS
Height: 6' 2" Bats:   R
Weight: 215 Throws:   R
DOB: 11/2/1982 Agent: N/A
Birth City: Havana, Cuba Draft: Braves #2 - 2005
Uniform #: 11  
 
YR LEA TEAM SAL(K) G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO OBP SLG AVG
2005 APP DANVILLE   8 30 9 12 2 1 2 8 0   5 4     .400
2005 SAL ROME   48 198 30 62 13 3 4 19 0   14 30     .313
2006 SL MISSISSIPPI   121 428 55 113 21 4 2 45 7 9 59 77   .346 .264
2007 NL BRAVES   94 319 54 104 25 0 5 28 5 3 27 44 .385 .451 .326
2007 IL RICHMOND   46 180 20 60 10 3 2 29 7 3 14 27 .379 .456 .333
2008 NL BRAVES $402.00 136 514 71 148 24 2 10 60 2 5 59 62 .366 .401 .288
2009 NL BRAVES $425.00 141 528 89 158 26 2 14 76 5 4 57 62 .377 .436 .299
2010 IL GWINNETT   1 3 1 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 .750 .667 .667
2010 AL BRAVES $435.00 75 261 28 62 12 0 0 19 5 1 37 31 .334 .284 .238
2010 AL BLUE JAYS   60 236 32 65 7 0 4 16 1 1 19 26 .340 .356 .275
2011 AL BLUE JAYS $2,900.00 133 513 77 149 24 3 11 48 3 3 61 70 .369 .413 .290
2012 AL BLUE JAYS $5,000.00 145 558 58 141 22 1 9 51 5 1 35 70 .300 .344 .253
2013 AL RAYS $5,000.00 153 508 61 130 27 1 9 56 4 4 57 73 .332 .366 .256
2014 FSL CHARLOTTE   2 7 2 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 .143 .143 .143
2014 AL RAYS $5,000.00 84 289 18 73 13 0 4 25 1 1 32 34 .327 .339 .253
PERSONAL:

  • On October 6, 2004, Escobar made the daring escape from Cuba, his home country. Along with five other baseball players and another 30 people, Escobar spent three days stowed away on a boat, sailing away from his family and friends and the life he once knew.
  • "There were sad moments," said Escobar, speaking through an interpreter, "thinking about the sacrifices we were making. There were some people who had water, but they were the people with young children. The trip ended up being two days, and it caught us by surprise. All the rations went to the kids before anyone else."

    Although Escobar chooses not to elaborate on the circumstances surrounding his trip, he said he and the other passengers knew the dangers of their endeavor.

    "So many have (attempted) this and didn't make it," he said. "Some have died; others have turned back."

    The 25-foot boat Escobar was on eventually found the Florida shoreline, and Escobar took up residency in Miami for several months. Because he was in the U.S., Escobar and the other players he defected with were subject to the draft.

    In June 2005, the Braves picked him in the second round with the 75th overall selection. He was signed for $475,000 by Braves' scout Gregg Kilby. And, as per his agreement, Yunel paid $20,000 to the men who had smuggled him out of Cuba.

  • After the 2006 season, Escobar won the Arizona Fall League batting crown while hitting .407/.463/.558.

  • Before the 2006 season, Baseball America rated Escobar the fourth-best prospect in the Braves' organization.

    Before 2007 spring training, the magazine slotted Yunel as #10 in the Atlanta farm system.

  • In January 2007, Yunel was thrilled with the arrival of his father, Mariano, and then 10-year-old sister, Yunay, from Cuba. An influential friend attained visas for the two members of the Escobar family. They settled into a four-bedroom house that Yunel and Minerva bought for them; it is less than five minutes from Brayan Pena and his family.

    In June 2007, Escobar's mother, Mariluz, was finally able to take a flight from Cuba to Venezuela. Then, it took about five weeks to get her to Atlanta, where there was a wonderful, emotional reunion with her family.

  • In November 2007, Escobar ended his relationship with with his wife, Minerva.

    Interestingly, she was instrumental in Yunel leaving Cuba. Yunel had confided to her during a trip she made to see her grandmother in Cuba that he wanted to leave Cuba, and Minerva said she would do what she could to help. When she returned to Florida, she made contact with men who said they'd bring Yunel to the U.S. by boat for $20,000—too much money. But they told her that if Escobar rounded up five players to join him, they would bring them to the U.S., and Escobar could pay the money later.

    Then came a period of waiting. Minerva returned for her annual visit to Cuba. This time, Yunel made a proposal.

    "He said, 'Let's get married,'" Minerva said, her eyes welling with tears at the memory. "He knew he was going to leave and he said, 'I don't know what's going to happen to me. I just want to be married to you.'"

    So they married in a civil ceremony on August 9, 2004. She was only in Cuba nine more days before returning to Miami. Her parents were astonished at her marriage. "My family in Cuba told my mom, 'He's a good guy.' But she wasn't happy about it. My father was more relaxed with it. He said I'd always been very mature and made good decisions."  (Patty Rasmussen-ChopTalk-September 2007)

  • Yunel lives in a four-bedroom, four-bathroom home in Miami, and his parents and sister live with him. When they were in Cuba, they lived in a home that had two main rooms: a bedroom for the parents, and another room where they cooked, ate, lived, and where Yunel and his sister slept. They were fortunate that they had a small, indoor bathroom.

  • Yunel has a big, athletic body that allows him to play a physical brand of baseball.

  • Although Escobar became part of a team he calls the "Yankees of Cuba," his goal was always to play for the Braves. That was the team he and childhood friend Brayan Peña grew up adoring from afar in Cuba. It was Peña's team now.

  • Escobar is still learning English, but he is a high-energy player, maintaining a smile on his face. He can always be heard above the crowd shouting and whistling to his teammates. "Two out, guys, two out," Escobar often yells, followed by a shrieking whistle that's loud enough to drown out a train. His enthusiasm for the game is infectious.

    "I've been doing that (the whistling) since I was a little kid," Escobar said. "It's fun for me. It's my way of keeping myself and my teammates focused."

    But in June 2006, the Braves organization told Yunel to stop the loud whistling toward opponents while on the field. Escobar is still lively in the clubhouse, constantly chattering with his teammates, even those who don't understand what he's saying. 

  • Yunel is quick to praise the help he has received from former Brave Edgar Renteria, whom he calls his "baseball father." The two started working out during the offseason before 2007 spring training, and did the same in 2008. The rewards of their vigorous weight-lifting program are evident in Escobar's added bulk and strength, especially in his shoulders and arms.

    Renteria's influence on Escobar goes even deeper than the added muscle and increased infield agility. Yunel's sometimes volatile personality, which has gotten him into trouble in the past, was tempered by Renteria's professional, gentlemanly demeanor; he helped transition the raw Escobar into an accomplished Major Leaguer.

  • While he was in Cuba, Yunel and Braves catcher Brayan Pena were teammates on Cuba's junior national team. They remain good friends.

  • While with the Braves, Escobar was labeled as having a bad attitude in the clubhouse and describing his play in the field as lackadaisical at times. Yunel disagreed.

    "There was a problem there," he said the day after joining the Blue Jays. "I feel bad that I was getting a label that I don't think I deserved. It was inappropriate, because I'm nt the type of person and not the type of player that people were labeling me as being.

    "I've never had a problem whatsoever with Bobby Cox. It was more a communication thing. A lot of times, maybe I just didn't understand some of the things they were trying to tell me."

  • September 15, 2012: Escobar wore eye-black stickers containing a homophobic slur written in Spanish. So the Toronto Blue Jays suspended him for three games.

    "I'm sorry for the actions of the other day," Escobar said through a translator at a news conference. "I'd like to apologize to the fans and the Blue Jays organization. It's not something I intended to be offensive. It was nothing intentional or directed at anyone in particular. I have nothing against homosexuals."

    The salary lost by Escobar during his suspension will be donated by the Blue Jays to the You Can Play and the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The shortstop will also participate in an outreach initiative to help educate others about sensitivity and tolerance toward others based on sexual orientation.

    "Major League Baseball supports today's decision by the Blue Jays to discipline Yunel Escobar and commends them for handling this situation appropriately and promptly," said Commissioner Bud Selig in a statement. "It is important to note that in addition to being suspended without pay, Mr. Escobar has agreed to complete a sensitivity training program and will participate in a public outreach initiative aimed towards promoting sensitivity and tolerance."

  • March 25, 2013:  So far, Yunel Escobar has been everything the Rays hoped for and then some. Right, Joe Maddon?  "Honestly, my goodness, tremendous work ethic," Maddon said. "Just watch him in pregame. He does it every day."

    Questions emerged about Escobar's attitude, maturity, and judgment during six seasons with the Braves and Blue Jays. He's enormously gifted, but there were times when he didn't seem to be worth the trouble.  It spoke volumes that Tampa Bay believed in him. The Rays have taken chances before on players who had problems elsewhere and been rewarded.

  • Much of Escobar's flash can be seen in his mannerisms on the field, such as wagging his bat like a Keystone Cop as he strolls to the plate, offering the safe sign when he crosses home plate after hitting a home run and acting like he's making a jump shot after making a play in the field.

    Some might label Escobar a hot dog. But Escobar explained that his behavior is just a part of who he is.

    "Since I've been playing as a little kid in Cuba, I haven't felt like I was showing somebody up," said Escobar, with Rays' bench coach Davey Martinez translating. "I've played for a couple of organizations that didn't like when I did that. Now I feel like I can be myself here. They don't downgrade my style of play as long as I'm catching the ball and hitting the ball. I'm comfortable and having a lot of fun."

    In regard to the basketball gesture, Escobar explained that his teams have said they like when he does it, so after he makes a long throw, "I come up like I'm making a three."

    "I've always liked basketball and played basketball in the winter time to stay loose," Escobar added. "I don't want to offend any other team. It's just something I've been accustomed to doing. It's the way I play, so I hope I'm not offending the other team, because I'm just out there having fun."

  • Rays manager Joe Maddon has often used "chrome" to describe the 30-year-old Escobar's playing style.  He carries the chrome with him throughout the day. Escobar drives an Aston Martin to Tropicana Field and his fashion style is unlike any other in the clubhouse.

    After the uniform is on, Escobar's chrome carries itself to the dugout. He has a personalized pregame handshake routine with almost every player on the roster. Pitching coach Jim Hickey and third-base coach Tom Foley have even been in on the action recently.

    "It's entertainment, man, and this guy entertains," Maddon said. "You watch before the game how he energizes the dugout before everyone takes the field. He's always up. He's upbeat. He brings a lot of positive energy to us."

    Once on the field, the act picks up. Although Escobar speaks little English, he is one of the more audible Rays, the "zany" one in an otherwise calm bunch, according to Maddon. 

    "He's always yelling different, crazy things during games, things in Spanish that don't make sense," catcher Jose Lobaton said. "Yunel wants everyone to see him, but that's good for us.  I like infielders talking. It makes the game feel alive. If there are thousands of people here and everyone is quiet in the infield, what kind of game is that?"

    Given the way Escobar plays, his white home uniform does not stand a chance of staying clean for long, so he saves himself the trouble by taking a handful of infield dirt and rubbing it on his pants before the first pitch is thrown. He quickly sullies the grounds crew's carefully laid chalk lines at the upper border of the batter's box before every at-bat. After Escobar makes one of his signature plays at shortstop, he makes the shooting motion of a basketball jumper.

    "It's just something I've been accustomed to doing," Escobar said. "It's the way I play, so I hope I'm not offending the other team, because I'm just out there having fun."  But Escobar's antics have been interpreted as more than "having fun" in the past and the implications have been far-reaching. The LBGT community will not soon forget about Escobar writing a gay slur on his eye black last season while he was with the Blue Jays. He apologized after Major League Baseball served him a three-game suspension.

    "We talked about the [eye-black] incident, but everything else seemed a little superficial," Maddon said. "With all our guys, I want them to feel a freedom to be themselves here. If they are, they're going to play better. There are different ways to derive discipline. It doesn't have to be by trying to control behavior. I'm so not into that. That takes way too much mental energy to even attempt to do. You're seeing him being comfortable, and when he's comfortable, he's a really good baseball player."

    "I feel like I can be myself here," Escobar said through a translator. "They don't downgrade my style of play as long as I'm catching the ball and hitting the ball. I'm comfortable and having a lot of fun. It's great that Joe gives me the flexibility to play the game the way I feel comfortable."  The way Escobar "feels comfortable" is turning into a thrill ride to watch. (Strong - mlb.com - 8/05/13)

    TRANSACTIONS

  • June 2005: The Braves picked him in the second round. He was signed for $475,000 by Braves' scout Gregg Kilby. According to his agreement, Yunel paid $20,000 to the men who had smuggled him out of Cuba.

  • July 14, 2010: The Blue Jays sent SS Alex Gonzalez, P Tim Collins, and SS Tyler Pastornicky to the Braves, acquiring Escobar and LHP Jo-Jo Reyes.

  • January 18, 2011: Yunesky and the Blue Jays avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $2.9 million contract for 2011.

  • November 19, 2012: The Marlins/Blue Jays 12-player blockbuster trade had the Marlins receiving shortstop Yunel Escobar, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, righthander Henderson Alvarez, veteran backup catcher Jeff Mathis, outfielder Jake Marisnick, lefthander Justin Nicolino, and righthander Anthony DeSclafani.

    The Blue Jays got All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, right-hander Josh Johnson, left-hander Mark Buehrle, catcher John Buck and infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio.

    Toronto also reportedly received $4 million as part of the deal to help compensate for the almost $165 million in salary headed to the Blue Jays. It's the largest deal in franchise history both in terms of the numbers of players and money.

  • December 4, 2012: The Rays sent INF Derek Dietrich to the Marlins, acquiring Escobar.

  • November 2, 2013: The Rays picked up the $5 option on Yunel for the 2014 season.

  • April 5, 2014: The Rays and Escobar agreed on a 2-year extension covering 2015 and 2016 worth a guaranteed $13 million. The deal also includes a club option for 2017. The extension replaces a 2015 club option.

 
 
BATTING:

  • Escobar is a pure, solid hitter. He hits for both a high average (.300) and some power when he takes the ball the other way.
  • Yunel has the bat speed to hit 15 home runs per season. He gets his power from strong hands and wrists that produce line drives from gap to gap.

  • Escobar is aggressive at the plate, but at the same time, he has good pitch recognition and plate discipline. He really doesn't have any holes. He hits breaking pitches and hard heat. He can hit balls on the inside corner as well as pitches three inches off the plate.

    To a certain extent, Yunel is learning to work deeper into count, but his high-contact, high-average approach already works for him.

    STARTS HIS CAREER WITH A BANG

  • June 2, 2007: Escobar went 2 for 4 including the game winning RBI in his Major League debut.

  • On June 4, 2007, Escobar celebrated his home debut in grand style. Yunel went 4-for-4 including his first Major League home run, all with his wife Minerva in attendance.

    "It was great because it was my first game in Atlanta," Escobar said with bullpen coach Eddie Perez interpreting. "It felt great."

  • In 2007, in his 34 games in the leadoff role, Escobar hit .351 with a .400 on-base percentage with the Braves.

  • As of the start of the 2014 season, Escobars career Major League stats were: .278 batting average, 62 homeruns with 354 RBI's in 3,437 at-bats.
 
 
FIELDING:

  • Yunel is a good shortstop with a steady glove. He makes some amazing plays along with the routine ones. He has excellent hands and a strong arm.

    Escobar's range is good, but not excellent.
  • He is a team leader on the field. Escobar plays the game with real passion and flair, and it is contagious.

  • Escobar is able to play a solid second base.

  • In 2007 with the Braves, he filled in at third base for Chipper Jones while Jones was on the disabled list.

  • The knock on Escobar before he joined Tampa Bay was that he could make the flashy play but struggled at times with run-of-the-mill ground balls.

Maddon hasn't seen that.

"He's killed the routine play, absolutely annihilated it," Maddon said the last week of the 2013 season, adding that Escobar deserves Gold Glove consideration. "I don't think anyone could possibly be better at the routine play than he has been this year. Watch how hard James Loney has to work to catch his throws. They're right in his chest. I think he has been spectacular, and he's benefited from our positioning. It's hard to imagine anyone being more consistent on defense than he has been (in 2013)."

 
  • In 2013, Yunel led all Major League shortstops with a .989 fielding percentage.

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    RUNNING:

    • Yunel has just average speed. He doesn't run the bases well.
     
    CAREER INJURY REPORT:

    • August 2005: A wrist injury ended his season a week early.
    • April 17, 2009: Escobar strained his abdominal muscle while making his customary jump in the on-deck circle before an at-bat. This jumping exercise is something he's done before every at-bat throughout his career.

    • May 1-15, 2010: Yunel was on the D.L. with a strained left groin.

    • April 7, 2011: Escobar was diagnosed with a mild concussion. He suffered the head injury when he slid head-first into third base, and his head hit the knee of Andy LaRoche.

    • September 11, 2011: Yunel was on the D.L. with a left elbow injury.

  • June 30-July 11, 2014:  Yunel (right shoulder) has been assigned to the 15-day disabled list, Rays manager Joe Madden announced.
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    Last Updated 7/23/2014. All contents © 2000 by Player Profiles. All rights reserved.