Eckstein Marks the Spot

Let me just say up front that I’m a fan of guys who get the most of our their ability. If you aren’t gifted with overwhelming tools and still find a way to succeed, unless you’re a complete jerk, I’m behind you.

With that disclaimer out of the way, it should come as no surprise that I like the David Eckstein signing. Why? Well, because Eckstein has good on-base skills (career .351 OBP), he’s cheap ($850,000 for 1 year), and he buys Matt Antonelli a little more time.

I like Antonelli’s long-term chances, but he hit .215 in the PCL last year. It would be nice to see him put up some numbers at Triple-A before bringing him up to the big club. I want to see him stick once he gets the call, and not bounce back and forth between San Diego and Portland. The Padres didn’t rush Chase Headley last year, and I think it served player and team well; hopefully the same will hold true for Antonelli.

Getting back to Eckstein, the Padres haven’t had a middle infielder break a .320 OBP since 2005, when Mark Loretta played here. If nothing else, there will be a certain novelty in having a second baseman who doesn’t hack at everything.

Eckstein is sort of like Dave Roberts. When he’s on the other team, you hate him because it doesn’t seem like he should have any success with that skill set. When he’s on your team, though, you appreciate that he must be driving the opposition crazy.

Its probably a stretch to blame John Sickels for my infatuation with Eckstein, but I’d be lying if I said Sickels didn’t influence me at all. From his 2000 Minor League Scouting Notebook (page 77, same as Adam Dunn and Adam Eaton):

Most scouts don’t like David Eckstein because he isn’t a great athlete. There are two specific criticisms. His range around the bag at second is very limited and his bat won’t hold up at higher levels. The second objection is, in my opinion, invalid. [Ed note: Eckstein had a career .308/.429/.411 line through better than 1200 minor-league at-bats to this point.] … he doesn’t look like he has much range if you watch him play, but his range factors always have been good and he turns the double play well. The trouble is, range factors can be deceptive for minor league players, and measuring range statistically is very difficult. So what we have is a player who can hit, who hustles, who’s sound fundamentally and who’s very reliable defensively. The problem boils down to whether or not he has the range to play second base and, frankly, I don’t know if he does. But I’d sure be willing to try and find out.

And from Sickels’ 2001 Minor League Scouting Notebook:

I love this guy, and I can’t believe the Red Sox let him go on waivers… Eckstein got off to a slow start in 2000, which he attributes to the fact that the Red Sox altered his swing. Why on earth they would mess with his swing, considering how well he hit in previous seasons, is beyond me… He has superb strike-zone judgment, surprising pop for a player his size, and he steals bases. Oh yes, he also led the Triple-A International League in fielding percentage at second base. Anyone who has seen him play can testify to his hustle and determination.

Sickels gave Eckstein a grade of B-minus both years. I’ve always appreciated Sickels’ interest in skills rather than tools, because it helps him identify guys that old-school scouts might miss based strictly on observation.

Eckstein wasn’t considered a legitimate second-base prospect and he went on to have a successful career as a shortstop despite not reaching the big leagues until age 26. Sorry, but that’s an awesome story.

Yeah, he’s lost some of the speed. And he doesn’t seem to be a shortstop anymore, but the Padres aren’t asking him to be one, so that’s fine.

As a stopgap, Eckstein is pretty much ideal. He’s useful but expendable. If he plays well (and the Padres aren’t in contention), maybe he gets flipped once Antonelli is deemed ready. If Eckstein sucks, hey, at least he cost less than Marcus Giles and Tadahito Iguchi.

Honestly, I’m not seeing a lot of downside here.

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17 Responses »

  1. Can Eckstein play SS if needed? If L-Rod is batting .215 in mid-May and Antonelli is back to his old self (2007) in AAA, is there the possibility of moving Eckstein to SS? Or if Denker has a ST similar to Barfield’s in 2006, is there any way Eckstein can hold down the SS spot?

  2. I like the signing too. Hopefully, Edgar Gonzalez can still stay with the team in a utility role. The Padres might as well sign Vizquel. Luis Rodriguez isn’t much of a hitter anyway.

  3. From John Sickels:

    Sawyer Carroll, OF, San Diego Padres
    Bats: L Throws: R HT: 6-4 WT: 210 DOB: May 9, 1986

    The Padres drafted Carroll in the supplemental third round last year, from the University of Kentucky. He was very successful in college, and he continued to hit well in the Northwest League after signing (OPS +33 percent). However, his strikeout rate at Eugene was rather high, and a late trial in the Midwest League resulted in poor numbers. People who like Carroll say he is a polished hitter with good strike zone judgment and at least decent power, who is fundamentally sound and makes the most out of average tools. People who don’t like Carroll say he’s an aluminum bat hitter who will struggle against better pitching, and that Midwest League pitchers exposed his lack of genuinely good bat speed. The jury is still out on this, given the sample size, but he’s shown the ability to make adjustments before. Grade C for now.

    and:

    Erik Davis, RHP, San Diego Padres

    Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-4 WT: 200 DOB: October 8, 1986

    San Diego drafted Erik Davis in the 13th round last year, out of Stanford. He pitched excellently in his pro debut, showing sharp command of his 89-92 MPH sinking fastball, solid curveball and very good changeup. He never quite lived up to expectations in college, but scouts like his emotional fortitude: he was hit in the face by a line drive in the 2006 Cape Cod League, almost losing an eye and requiring reconstructive surgery. Davis will have to prove himself at higher levels, but he’s earned the opportunity, and I think he is a sleeper. Grade C.

  4. Yeah, first, I don’t get all the doom & gloom about the Padres (in general) and specifically, I don’t get people who see this signing as a sign that the Padres can’t compete. This is an awesome signing. We didn’t have to commit TOO much money and we didn’t have to get a player who we’re HOPING has a rebound. This is a GREAT signing.

  5. I’d be fine with the Eckstein signing if he was going to be playing SS. I’d also be fine with the Eckstein signing if the Padres only had Antonelli behind him. But the Padres don’t have just Antonelli — they have 2 legitimate, almost (if not entirely) major league ready second base prospects in Antonelli and Travis Denker. So what happens when Eckstein gets named the starter out of Spring Training? Unless they plan on moving Antonelli back to 3rd, or to CF, I would assume that only one of those two will go back to Portland. Denker doesn’t need to spend more time in AA. Why not let one of those guys try and prove themselves to start the year, instead of setting back their development?