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Top 40 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #28 Kelvim Escobar

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Kelvim Jose Escobar Bolivar | SP/RP | 1997-2003 | Career Stats

Signed as an undrafted free agent at the tender age of 16, it was obvious that he possessed the potential to be a successful major league player. He had the raw talent to succeed but he often had problems harnessing it enough to become effective. Throughout his minor league career, Escobar demonstrated poor control of the strike zone. However, what he lacked in control he made up for in very dominant stuff. At times, he averaged close to one wild pitch every ten innings while walking about four batters every nine innings. However, when batters weren't reaching base via a wild pitch or a walk, they were often striking out. He consistently struck out approximately a batter an inning, which helped convince the Blue Jays that he could become a force out of the bullpen.

In 1997, Escobar's rookie season, the Blue Jays had six capable starting pitchers -- Pat Hentgen, Roger Clemens, Woody Williams, Robert Person, Chris Carpenter, and Juan Guzman -- which necessitated his transition to a role in relief. That season, the team had no official closer, a person whom they could consistently rely upon to close out games. In fact, the team's first six saves that season were amassed by five different pitchers: Tim Crabtree, Mike Timlin, Dan Plesac, Paul Spoljaric, and Paul Quantrill. That meant the role was Escobar's for the taking.

When he was first promoted to the majors at the end of June, 1997, Escobar had two appearances in long relief during which he only allowed one run in 8.1 innings. By his fourth appearance, he was thrust into the closer's role, which he would retain until the end of the season. He amazingly converted his first twelve save opportunities, only to have his streak end at the hands of the Oakland Athletics on on September 11, almost two full months after it began. Needless to say, he immediately gained widespread popularity within Toronto baseball circles. The media praised his raw talent, his unbridled enthusiasm, and his closer's mentality. He wound up saving 14 games in 17 chances. However, one of his blown saves, when he allowed two runs against the Boston Red Sox on September 18, prevented Roger Clemens from winning his 22nd game of the season.

Prior to the 1998 season, rather than relying on Escobar as the team's primary closer, GM Gord Ash signed relief pitcher Randy Myers to a three-year, $18 million contract, the largest ever given to a closer at the time. In retrospect, it was one of the absolute worst moves during Ash's tenure. Myers didn't even last one season with the Blue Jays, as he was shipped off to San Diego, where his career ended with a soft whimper. That season, Escobar alternated between a role in the rotation and one in the bullpen. Despite not having a solidified role, he posted respectable totals, though he continually had control issues that held him back from reaching his ultimate potential.

During the next two seasons, he never quite embraced being a full-time starting pitcher. His walk rate was exceedingly high and he posted totals that were considerably worse than the league average. He wasn't a lost cause, however, because he still possessed a great deal of raw talent, as evidenced by his impressive strikeout ratios. Whether he would ever harness that talent and mazimize its value, on the other hand, remained to be seen.

In 2002, after closer Billy Koch was traded to the Oakland Athletics for Eric Hinske, Escobar became the team's full-time closer. And despite racking up an impressive saves total (38), he was much too erractic and unreliable to be counted on past that season. The next season, his contract year, the Blue Jays relied on a closer-by-committee setup and Escobar was sent to the rotation. After that season, he signed a lucrative contract with the Anaheim Angels, where he's enjoyed more success but has likewise been plagued by numerous injuries.

It's unlikely that Escobar will ever reach his true potential. When he first came up with the Blue Jays as part of the Halladay-Carpenter-Escobar troika, analysts raved about his 20-win potential and Cy Young ability. While that became true of the first two members of that troika, Escobar has never quite reached that plateau.

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