Escobar has high hopes for himself, Royals
Shortstop out to bounce back offensively, sees big year for Kansas City
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Shortstop Alcides Escobar arrived in the Royals' camp bright and early Wednesday morning with a full measure of Spring Training optimism.
Escobar took a look back at last season and the Royals' intriguing stretch run.
"It was a lot of fun. The team played over .500 [86-76] and this year it's much better," he said.
Does he see maybe 90 victories this year?
"A hundred, a hundred wins," he said, smiling. "One-oh-oh."
Oh-oh, my, there's some real springtime dreaming for you, considering the Royals have reached the 100-win plateau just once in their previous 45 years (102 in 1977).
While Esky was on his optimistic odyssey, he was asked if he could get his batting average back up to the .290 level. There was another smile.
"Yeah, .290 and 40 stolen bases -- a nice year," he said.
Compared to 2012, Escobar's 2013 year was not so nice, at least at bat. To his credit, he didn't carry his batting box blues with him out to shortstop where he exhibited his usual defensive brilliance. He was nominated for a Gold Glove and made six fewer errors (13) than in 2012.
"I was good on defense and baserunning and everything and I want to get my offense again back to 2012," he said.
Escobar's numbers took some significant dips from 2012 to 2013: average, .293 to .234; hits, 177 to 142; stolen bases, 35 to 22; doubles, 30 to 20. His on-base percentage dropped from .331 to .259, his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) from .721 to .559.
Escobar admitted that, as he struggled, he got too antsy at the plate.
"Sometimes I get impatient and I get too quick and swing at too many pitches out of the strike zone," he said.
Manager Ned Yost noticed, too, that Escobar often tended to swing early in the count.
"He didn't do it much the year before," Yost said. "And what happens, especially with these guys when they know they're struggling a little bit, they get in a hurry to get caught up and that tends to have guys swing earlier in the count and that's what he did. He tried to slow it down, he knew what was going on last year and he wanted to contribute offensively -- he was a huge contributor defensively -- but he put himself in bad counts by swinging early. Hopefully he doesn't have to experience that as much this year."
Although Yost considers Escobar his best hit-and-run batter and used him most often in the No. 2 hole last year, that spot in the order likely will go to new second baseman Omar Infante. Escobar is the projected No. 9 batter.
Escobar settled into a locker right next to Infante, his new partner in the middle of the infield.
"I know him from Venezuela and Detroit, I played against him a lot," Escobar said. "They put us together here and we can talk every day and this guy is one of the best second basemen in the game and a good guy, too."
This will be the first time they've played together and it could finally give Escobar some feeling of permanence on the other side of the bag. In his three years with the Royals, Escobar has been paired with 10 different second basemen with Chris Getz, now with the Blue Jays, his most frequent partner. (Getz started at second base in 214 of the 486 games in that three-year period.)
The durable Escobar has played nearly every day since being obtained from the Brewers in the Zack Greinke trade. And he usually plays some winter ball in his native Venezuela as well.
"But this year I didn't play because my wife is pregnant right now and the baby is due next week," he said.
His wife, Francys, is expecting their first child in Miami, so he'll be taking a trip to Florida soon for the big event.
After that, Escobar will return to concentrating on an offensive turnaround.
"When you can drive the ball to all fields, you're going to put up some offensive numbers," Yost said. "He can do so many things. He can bunt, he can hit-and-run, there are a lot of things he can do to maintain his production. I've just got a lot of confidence in his abilities as an offensive performer."
After his first batting practice Wednesday, someone mentioned that Escobar looked somewhat bigger and stronger.
"A lot of it, too, is he dumped the braces," Yost said. "That's always going to make you look stronger, when you dump the braces."
Indeed, Escobar's teeth no longer held the familiar gold braces, giving him a flashier smile and perhaps bigger dreams.
Maybe that's where those 100 wins came from.