Home > Uncategorized > The Journey of Alcides Escobar

The Journey of Alcides Escobar

One of the newest Royals is possibly one of the most important to the future of the franchise. When Dayton Moore took over as general manager he made his now locally famous statement that pitching is the currency of baseball. Everyone remembers that and uses that statement frequently, but the other big thing he said about his philosophy of building a team is that he wants a team that is strong defensively up the middle and strong offensively in the corners. Before anyone gets upset, that doesn’t mean he wants to sacrifice defense at third base or offense at second. It just means that the priority is reversed. When Zack Greinke requested a trade this off-season, Dayton Moore had the unenviable task of finding a package that would be amenable to the fans as well as help the ballclub. Alcides Escobar is the shortstop received in the trade, and his development has the potential to cause ripple effects throughout the entire organization in a good way.

Escobar was signed by the Brewers as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2003. He was a little smaller then than he is now, and he was considered to be very strong with the glove, though a little error prone. He was described similarly to most Latin American shortstops in that he could absolutely dazzle defensively, but wasn’t much with the bat. In his professional debut, though, in 2004, he held his own quite well as a 17 year-old in the rookie league. He hit .281/.348/.342. The power wasn’t there, but he hadn’t filled out his body yet, so there was a chance that some could develop. He made a lot of errors, but got to a lot of balls, too, with a range factor close to 5.”

The Brewers saw enough in him during his first year in professional baseball to promote him to A-ball and see how well he could handle it as an 18 year-old. This was a strong promotion for Escobar, and it had the opportunity to really stunt his development. The batting average was still there for him, but he drew the exact same number of walks in exactly 300 more plate appearances.  His strikeout rate was pretty stagnant, but he only hit .271/.305/.362. He did collect 35 extra base hits, so he was starting to show a little more pop in his bat. Defensively, he made 41 errors, but the number of errors rarely tells the story in the minors as the fields are often difficult to play on, and cause lots of bad hops.

Escobar moved up to high A the following season and struggled both offensively and defensively. Many players who sign as amateur teenagers don’t pan out. Sometimes their bodies just don’t develop as the teams thought they might, and sometimes their skill set just doesn’t develop. 2006 was the year that the Brewers thought might have been the end of the road for Escobar as their shortstop of the future. He hit just .257/.296/.306 with 12 extra base hits. He did go 28 for 36 in stealing bases, but provided little else. His range was decreased, and he was stagnating as a prospect.

He began the next year repeating the level, and excelled offensively, hitting .325/.345/.377. At this point, the Brewers and the rest of baseball had pretty much come to the conclusion that he was never going to be an on-base machine, but his defense and contact ability should be enough to allow him to make it. He moved to AA later that season and posted a strong .283/.314/.354 line. His defense didn’t rate out great that year, but it was an improvement over the previous season. The Brewers left him in AA the next season and he had his breakout as a prospect hitting .328/.363/.434 with 37 extra base hits and 34 steals. He was back on the prospect map.

In 2009, he went to AAA and actually improved his walk rate and hit .298/.353/.409 and for the second straight year posted fantastic defensive numbers. He had a late season cup of coffee and hit .304/.333/.368 in 38 games with the Brewers and even had five extra base hits to go along with four steals. He was ranked twelfth and the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects list. In the off-season, the Brewers traded JJ Hardy to the Twins to make room for Escobar and figured he’d be a fixture in their middle infield for years to come.

A funny thing happened, though. Escobar, who had become a very likely bet to succeed in the Majors, struggled mightily in his rookie season. He hit just .235/.288/.326, collected only 28 extra base hits and stole just ten bases. He actually was below average defensively, which was odd for him as he had a reputation as a strong defender. Most believed that he would turn it around, and the Brewers were no different, but when a pitcher the caliber of Zack Greinke came available, they did what it took to get him. You have to give up talent to get talent.

In ten years, we may look at the Zack Greinke deal and think of Lorenzo Cain or Jake Odorizzi as the headliner or even Jeremy Jeffress if he becomes a flame throwing late inning reliever. Right now, though, the key to the deal is Escobar. He allows the defense to stabilize. His range can make up for the defensive deficiencies that Moustakas has. Him playing shortstop allows Christian Colon to go from average defensive at short to fantastic defensively at second. It sets the entire thing in motion and allows the Royals to field a good defense for the first time in forever.

I’m no scout, but in watching Escobar’s swing during batting practice, I’m a fan of what I see. I think he has some serious offensive potential in there. He won’t ever hit 30 homers, but I could see a year with 35 doubles, 10-12 homers and 10-12 triples. Add that in with great defense and 30+ steals and the Royals potentially have themselves the answer at shortstop for years to come.

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