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Angels confident Yunel will excel at 3rd base

MLB.com @Alden_Gonzalez

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Infield coach Alfredo Griffin stood near a bucket of baseballs at home plate on Monday afternoon, fungo bat in hand. Third-base coach Ron Roenicke grabbed a glove and jogged to first base. Angels manager Mike Scioscia sat on a knee in foul territory, with general manager Billy Eppler right beside him. And Yunel Escobar manned third base, a position he'll once again play regularly in 2016 and one he's still trying to get comfortable at.

Escobar transitioned from shortstop to third base for the first time in 2015, his ninth season in the big leagues, and the metrics were quite unkind. Defensive Runs Saved had him tied with Pablo Sandoval for last place among third basemen at minus-11; Ultimate Zone Rating had him at minus-7.7, ranked 17th out of 20 qualifiers.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Infield coach Alfredo Griffin stood near a bucket of baseballs at home plate on Monday afternoon, fungo bat in hand. Third-base coach Ron Roenicke grabbed a glove and jogged to first base. Angels manager Mike Scioscia sat on a knee in foul territory, with general manager Billy Eppler right beside him. And Yunel Escobar manned third base, a position he'll once again play regularly in 2016 and one he's still trying to get comfortable at.

Escobar transitioned from shortstop to third base for the first time in 2015, his ninth season in the big leagues, and the metrics were quite unkind. Defensive Runs Saved had him tied with Pablo Sandoval for last place among third basemen at minus-11; Ultimate Zone Rating had him at minus-7.7, ranked 17th out of 20 qualifiers.

Scioscia isn't buying it.

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"If you see the way he's worked out, you see a plus defender," he said. "He will be a plus defender for us."

Scioscia doesn't believe he'll have to sub Escobar out for defense when his team holds close leads late in games, a common practice with former third baseman David Freese. Escobar is a longtime shortstop, which should mean he has the athleticism to cover more ground. And he only committed seven errors last season, tied with Martin Prado for the fewest at the hot corner.

The main issue was Escobar's throwing accuracy, perhaps a product of his arm slot.

"When you play shortstop, it's harder to throw from over the top," Escobar said in Spanish. "You throw three-quarters. That was the hardest part for me, that I wasn't used to throwing from over the top. I still have to work on that. Little by little I'm trying to do better."

Third basemen usually throw from over the top because they have more time to get rid of the ball and want to get more on it. But Griffin thinks it's best if Escobar just sticks with the angle he's always thrown from, otherwise his shoulder will get uncommonly sore because the muscle memory isn't really there.

Escobar's throws also have some natural tailing action, an issue now that he's delivering baseballs from a different vantage point.

"He just needs to adjust to it," Griffin said. "He'll learn."

An entire regular season, winter and Spring Training at third base should help.

Escobar has basically spent his entire career as a shortstop. He played that position full time from 2007-14, posting the 13th-best shortstop UZR in that span. Then he got dealt to the Nats, spent an entire Spring Training learning second base and was told he'd actually play third base days before Opening Day, when Anthony Rendon suffered a knee injury.

"I had like two days to get ready," Escobar said. "It was tough. With a full season, I think I can be better."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast.

 

Los Angeles Angels, Yunel Escobar