2011 Key Player: Alcides Escobar
Let’s lay off Alcides Escobar, okay people?
The 24-year-old Venezuelan-born shortstop was the key piece in the trade that sent Zack Greinke to Milwaukee, and within hours after the trade, Royals fans were complaining about being ripped off.
Doubtless, Alcides had a rough year in 2011. He batted only .235 over the course of 145 games, and his on-base percentage was well below .300. In 552 plate appearances, he walked only 36 times while striking out 70. He did manage to steal 10 bases.
But the expectations for this young man were so much higher. In Milwaukee, Escobar was believed to be the Second Coming of Derek Jeter. He was the prospect upon which all future hopes were pinned.
After one horrendous year, those hopes were thrown out the window, and Escobar was shipped out of town along with a few prospects to land Greinke and to rebuild what is now a fully loaded Brewers squad.
Fans have been awfully quick to write off Escobar because of his 2010 performance. But let’s be realistic: this young man has played in a grand total of 192 Major League games. One hundred ninety-two. That’s barely over a full season. He’s still extremely young, and he hasn’t yet reached his peak age, the “sweet spot” so to speak, when a ballplayer reaches his full maturity level (usually between 26 and 30).
Let’s give Escobar the benefit of the doubt.
Escobar is a lock to win the starting shortstop job in Kansas City. And that’s a good thing: defensively, Escobar is a huge upgrade from Yuniesky Betancourt, who also left town in the Greinke trade (good luck with Yuni, Brewers fans!). Alcides will get a long-term chance to prove himself.
That being said… nobody in this year’s Royals lineup can assume guaranteed job security – not even Billy Butler, who is without question the best hitter on the team (and one of the most underrated hitters in the league) and the club’s first baseman, and who should feel the glut of slugging first base prospects nipping at his heels.
The shortstop position is no different, especially with 2010 first-round draft pick Christian Colon looking like a natural fit for that spot in the future.
But Alcides has a little wiggle room. Even if he repeats a lousy 2010 performance, he may have competition in Spring Training 2012, but I’m certain he’d still be the front-runner for a starting position.
At his very best, Alcides Escobar has the potential to be Jeter-like. At worst, he’s a light-hitting glove wizard. Those guys may be a dime a dozen in the world of baseball (see: Getz, Chris), but every team has at least one roaming the middle infield and anchoring the back of the lineup. Somewhere in the middle is a great fielder and an above-average hitter who can use his speed to generate runs.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and associate editor for I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.