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.