Luis Escobar, Pirates’ No. 2 pitching prospect, gets first call-up
Luis Escobar Sr. quickly forgot about the dominoes game.
Luis Jr. was calling from the United States with the news every father of a promising baseball player yearns to hear: His son was going to the big leagues.
“When I called my father, he was in the midst of playing dominoes with his friends (in Cartagena, Colombia),” the 23-year-old pitcher said Saturday through translator Mike Gonzalez. “When I told him, he fell into shock. (He said), ‘Oh, my gosh, are you serious?’ He dropped the phone and started yelling to all his friends, ‘My son (is going to the big leagues).’ ”
At that moment, Luis Sr. wasn’t ashamed to admit to his son, tears were falling.
Escobar, the No. 2 pitching prospect in the Pirates organization (per MLB.com), was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis two days short of six years since he signed with the Pirates as a 17-year-old undrafted free agent third baseman.
The phone call Luis Jr. received from the Pirates was nearly as dramatic as the one he placed to his father.
“I looked at who was on the caller ID,” Luis Jr. said. “I recognized either I’m being called up, or I did something really bad.”
Escobar was part of a shakeup (some of it temporary) of the Pirates’ pitching staff.
The Pirates placed Steven Brault on the 10-day injured list with a left shoulder strain, and Trevor Williams is on paternity leave. Williams missed his scheduled start Saturday against the Milwaukee Brewers and was replaced by Dario Agrazal, who made his third major league start.
Montana DuRapau, a rookie on his third stint with the team, also was recalled from Indianapolis. He replaced Dovydas Neverauskas, who was optioned to Indianapolis after giving up two two-run homers Friday.
Escobar, who initially will work from the bullpen, is the Pirates’ most prized pitching prospect after Mitch Keller.
He has been a starter for most of his career (86 of 91 appearances before this season), earning berths in the MLB Futures Game and on the Colombian team in the World Baseball Classic in 2017.
That season, he pitched for Single-A West Virginia, leading the South Atlantic League with 168 strikeouts and 25 wild pitches while walking 60 in 1312⁄3 innings.
He struggled a bit in Double-A Altoona last year, compiling a 4-0 record, 4.54 ERA and 1.43 WHIP, with 21 walks and and 25 strikeouts in 352⁄3 innings.
With a fastball that hits the mid-90s, he started this season in Single-A Bradenton’s bullpen before he was promoted to Indianapolis on May 9. He was 2-1 in 13 appearances (five starts) in Indy with a 2.72 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 42 strikeouts and 20 walks in 361⁄3 innings.
Command of the strike zone has been an issue for Escobar, but Clint Hurdle said he has improved each month this year.
“We’ll try not to use him (in) high-leverage situations (immediately),” the Pirates manager said. “The reports have been good. He’s probably in the most confident place and the (best) place of conviction that he’s been in than probably anytime in his career.”
Escobar said his experiences and connections made in Winter Ball in Venezuela, the Futures Game and the World Baseball Classic have helped him mature.
“In the past year or two, I have really been intentional about surrounding myself with some men who will really help me develop and mature,” he said. “The past two years, I’ve been able to participate in spring training where I’ve been surrounded by a lot of men who poured into me and have helped me develop.”
“Connecting my maturity level with my talent has helped me improve a lot.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .