Royals' Top 5 shortstops: Flanagan's take

April 20th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only.

Here is Jeffrey Flanagan’s ranking of the top 5 shortstops in Royals history. Next week: Left fielders

Royals All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B

1) Freddie Patek, 1971-79
Key fact: Three All-Star Games

Just as Alcides Escobar was vital to the Royals’ resurgence under general manager Dayton Moore, Patek was crucial to the Royals’ rise from an expansion team to a perennial playoff contender in the late 1970s.

Patek’s physical stature -- 5-foot-5 -- in no way diminished his impact on the Royals of that time. In fact, then manager Whitey Herzog called him the best “artificial-turf shortstop” he ever managed. Even Patek joked when once asked what it was like to be the shortest player in the Majors, “Well, it’s better than being the shortest player in the Minors.”

Patek was a pesky hitter. In nine seasons with Kansas City, he had just a .630 OPS that would have created fury on Royals Twitter today (see: Escobar). But Patek led the American League in triples with 11 in 1971, and he was a terror to opponents once on the bases.

Patek stole 336 bases in his time with the Royals, leading the AL with 53 bags in 1977. He also stole 49 bases in 1971 and 51 in '76. That '71 season was his best offensively -- 21 doubles, 11 triples, six home runs and a .693 OPS.

2) , 2011-18
Key facts: One All-Star Game, one AL Gold Glove Award, 2015 AL Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award winner

Escobar, acquired in the Zack Greinke trade from Milwaukee in 2010, solidified the shortstop position for the Royals for eight years, helping them to two straight World Series appearances and one championship.

“He was as dependable as it gets,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “Late in games, he’s the guy you wanted the ball hit to. He had no fear.”

Three times, Escobar played in all 162 games in a season. And while he infuriated some fans with his free-swinging style (which led to a .292 on-base percentage with the Royals), he at times was an offensive catalyst, so much so that then-manager Ned Yost moved him to the leadoff spot in 2015, and Esky Magic was born.

Escobar’s best season came in 2012, when he hit .293 with a .721 OPS and stole 35 bases.

3) U L Washington, 1977-84
Key fact: 40 stolen bases in 1983

Washington was part of an impressive double-play duo with Frank White for years, and he had his moments offensively as well. Washington became an everyday starter in 1980 when the Royals advanced to their first World Series against the Phillies: He had 16 doubles, 11 triples, six home runs, 20 steals and a .711 OPS that season.

Washington’s best season came in 1982, when he posted a .750 OPS with 19 doubles and 23 steals.

4) Greg Gagne, 1993-95
Key fact: 32 doubles in 1993

Then-manager Hal McRae was an admirer of Gagne’s defense when Gagne was instrumental in the Twins’ rise to prominence in the late 1980s and early '90s. Gagne anchored McRae’s defense up the middle along with second baseman Chico Lind and center fielder Brian McRae.

Gagne not only had great range with a strong arm, he had sneaky pop at the plate. He hit 32 doubles with 10 home runs and 57 RBIs in 1993, and had a .724 OPS.

5) Kurt Stillwell, 1988-91
Key fact: One All-Star Game (1988)

Acquired in the Danny Jackson trade from the Reds in the 1987 offseason, Stillwell was a better offensive player than a defender. His best season with the Royals was his first, in '88, when he hit 28 doubles and 10 home runs and posted a .721 OPS. The Royals let him walk via free agency in '91.

Honorable mention

Adalberto Mondesi, 2016-present: Someday, if he stays healthy, he’ll be at the top of this list.

Angel Berroa, 2001-07: The AL Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2003 hit 28 doubles and 17 home runs with 73 RBIs. Berroa’s career with the Royals nosedived quickly after that.
Rey Sanchez: Hit .294 with a .698 OPS in 1999. Sound defender.

Jay Bell, 1997: Played just one season in Kansas City but was a force at the plate -- 21 home runs, 92 RBIs and an .829 OPS.

Buddy Biancalana, 1982-87: He couldn’t hit, but he was a hit with David Letterman in 1985 as the butt of a joke that eventually gave Biancalana his 15 minutes of fame.

Onix Concepcion, 1980-85: Started 109 games during the Royals’ championship season in 1985, then was released the following April.