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Yunel Escobar (born November 2, 1982, in Havana, Cubamarker) is an infielder in Major League Baseball who plays for the Atlanta Braves who goes by the nickname "jefe".

Cuban background

Brayan Peña, a former teammate of Escobar with the Atlanta Braves, was Escobar's best friend growing up in Cuba, with the two boys often playing on the same team and sharing bats, gloves, and cleats.


The Braves drafted Escobar in the second round of the 2005 draft, 75th overall. "We saw him as a premium talent," said Roy Clark, Atlanta's scouting director. "A lot of clubs didn't feel that they had enough background [on him]." Former Braves general manager John Schuerholz said he doesn't hesitate when he finds a Cuban who fits his team's needs. "I'm not a politician," Schuerholz said. "I'm a baseball general manager. We look for baseball talent wherever we can find it. And wherever it is, we go after it." Escobar's tense relationship with Cuban authorities in the aftermath of Peña's defection had limited his exposure to major league scouts. With little more than a few off-season workouts to draw upon, most teams were reluctant to take a chance on Escobar. The Braves, however, spoke with Pena,who had been called up to the majors to play for the Braves only days before Escobar was drafted in the 2005 draft. Braves officials asked Pena countless questions about everything from Escobar's skill set to his command of English to his family background. "The best recommendation we got was from Brayan," Clark says. Escobar received a $475,000 signing bonus.

After being drafted and signed by the Braves in 2005, Yunel began in the Appalachian League with Danville and proved that he was out of their league. He hit .400 with 2 homers and 8 RBIs in his short stay. He finished 2005 with Rome and was impressive there as well. In 198 at-bats, Yunel hit .313/.358/.470. He was progressing quickly just as Atlanta had hoped and expected from the 22-year-old first year player.


Escobar played the entire 2006 season in AA- Mississippi and selected to All-Star Futures Game. His performance in Mississippi was somewhat disappointing with a few bright spots. The good news is that he showed good plate discipline with 59 walks and 77 strikeouts. This allowed him to post a very good .361 on-base percentage. However, he did not display any of the power that he showed in 2005. His slugging percentage dropped from .470 to .346 which caused his OPS to drop from 828 to 707. The source of his struggles in 2006 is hard to pinpoint but there were several things that didn’t work in Yunel’s favor. First, he did not get along with the manager, Jeff Blauser, at all. Secondly, playing two consecutive full minor league season probably put a toll on his body. He erased a lot of the doubt that people had in him by having an incredible season in the Arizona Fall League.


Escobar had a very strong spring training for the Braves in 2007 before being sent down to AAA Richmond to start the season. Escobar set the AAA International League on fire during his short stint there during the first two months of the 2007 season. In 46 games, Escobar hit .333 with a .379 OBP and a .456 SLG. Escobar made his major league debut on June 2, 2007 against the Chicago Cubs at third base.

He hit a single in his first Major League at-bat, and finished the game 2-for-4 with a double, an RBI, and a run. His double in the top of the 8th inning gave the Braves the lead in their 5-3 win. "This is what I dreamed about when I first left Cuba and got to the United States," said Escobar, with Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia serving as an interpreter. "It was especially great because it was in a city like Chicago and there were so many people here. Having the game-winning RBI, playing good defense and having the team win, I couldn't have dreamed it any better." "I had plenty of confidence in myself that I could get the job done," said Escobar. "It's fun to see any young kid come up," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "[Escobar] battles. He's a no-fear type of player and hitter." "I've always had a lot of confidence in myself," Escobar said. "It's just the game of baseball."

Esocbar with the Braves in 2008.

Escobar's first Major League home run came on June 4, 2007 against Florida Marlins pitcher Wes Obermueller. In the fourth inning of a 2-2 game - his first at Turner Fieldmarker - Escobar took a high fastball from Obermueller the "opposite way", hitting it over the wall in right field. He finished the day 4-for-4 with two singles and a double in addition to his home run.

On July 27, 2007, in a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Escobar exhibited an uncanny sense of alertness (and riskiness) as the Braves were down 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth inning. With two outs, Escobar drew a walk from Arizona closer Jose Valverde. Seeing Valverde bending down with his back turned toward second base with no position player near the bag, Escobar sprinted immediately for second base. By the time Valverde realized what Escobar was attempting to do, it was too late to throw him out. He scored from second on the next play as Willie Harris hit a two-out single, tying the game at 7-7 and completing a seven-run comeback for Atlanta. The Braves, however, went on to lose in extra innings. "You'd be shocked how many times players could do that, that don't," said Cox, who says he was successful with this daring attempt during his Major League days with the Yankees. "It's something you see a lot in the Minors and not as much up here, because guys have had it happen to them in the Minors," Renteria said. "That's why when a guy gets to first base, I'm always paying attention."

On August 5, 2007, Escobar recorded his first career walk-off hit against the Colorado Rockies in the 10th inning when he singled in Jeff Francoeur to give the Braves a 6-5 win.

On August 29, Escobar belted his first leadoff homer in a 7-4 win over the Marlins. Escobar finished his very successful rookie season a very respectable .326 batting average.

Escobar (1 point) came in a tie for sixth, as Ryan Braun (128 points) won the vote for the 2007 NL Sporting News Rookie of the Year Award by 488 major league players and 30 managers.

Due in part to Escobar's emergence, the Braves traded starting shortstop Edgar Rentería to the Detroit Tigers following the 2007 season for Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez. "Renteria taught him a lot," said Brayan Pena. "Renteria is like a father to him. They worked out all the time together. Escobar says that a lot of what he knows, he owes to Renteria."


On June 2, 2008, exactly one year after his major league debut, Escobar recorded his first career walk-off home run in a 7-5 victory over the Florida Marlins.

Escobar started the 2008 season hitting .315 with a .386 OBP, .435 SLG and .821 OPS over 192 plate appearances. After his buddy Pena was waived in May 2008 by the Atlanta Braves and subsequently traded to the Kansas City Royals, Escobar slumped terribly. Over the next 54 games, he hit .246 with a .315 OBP and a .321 SLG and 636 OPS over 250 plate appearances. Escobar rebounded over his final 38 games of the season, hitting .328 with a .427 OBP, .500 SLG and .927 OPS over 145 plate appearances. For the season, he hit .288 with a .366 OBP and a .401 SLG, which also hit a kid in the eye temporarily binding him. Yunel felt so horrible he chose to pay for the kid's docter bill.

Escobar had by all accounts a very good year with the glove in 2008. Defensively, he was rated 21 plays above average according to John Dewan’s +/- Fielding Bible, 10 runs above average according to Tom Tango’s Fan Scouting Report, and 12 runs above average according to Mitchel Lichtman’s Ultimate Zone Rating.


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  3. Brave Hearts (cont.) - MLB -
  4. Baby Braves | MVN - Most Valuable Network » Blog Archive » Prospect Profile: Yunel Escobar
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