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Escobar wins Joe Burke Special Achievement Award

KANSAS CITY -- Alcides Escobar didn't make the All-Star team and he didn't win a Gold Glove. But what he did all season long was make the Royals very, very happy.

And now he's won the annual Joe Burke Special Achievement Award for his outstanding season from the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Named for the Royals' former general manager and president from 1974-92, the Burke Award is the first of the three major team awards voted on by the BBWAA. The Pitcher of the Year will be announced on Tuesday and the Player of the Year will be named on Wednesday.

Escobar, at 25, is just coming into his prime. Check out his 2012 accomplishments:

• His 177 hits were the most ever by a Royals shortstop.

• His 35 stolen bases and 30 doubles were the most by a Royal in one season since Carlos Beltran's 35 steals and 44 doubles in 2002.

• He and Jarrod Dyson (30 stolen bases) became the first Royals pair with 30 or more in the same season since Willie Wilson (43) and Lonnie Smith (40) in 1985.

• In the field, he had the fourth-most chances (669) of any AL shortstop including the second-most putouts (242).

Shortly after Escobar arrived as part of the Zack Greinke trade prior to the 2011 season, he impressed KC fans with his frequent highlight-reel defensive dazzlers. That was expected. The big question was: Would he develop into a productive hitter?

Manager Ned Yost, who first saw Escobar when both were with the Brewers, thought so.

"I always felt, from the minute I saw this kid, that he was going to fill out and he would turn into a hitter," Yost said early last season. "He was always a phenomenal defender, always. But you just look at him and see how skinny he was, you just knew one day he was going to fill out. His hands worked good, very athletic, I just always really strongly felt that he would become a decent hitter."

That he did, convincingly. In a 59-game stretch from June 25 through Aug. 30, his average fell below .300 just four times as he batted .304 (72-for-237). He settled in as the most frequently-used No. 2 batter (86 times) and led the team with 37 infield hits, including 11 bunts, and tied for the team high in sacrifice bunts (eight).

"He's got a really good focus on what he's trying to do at the plate which he never really had before," Yost said as he witnessed Escobar's progress last season. "[Previously] the kid just went up there and hacked, but he's getting smarter, he's getting stronger and you add all those things up, you've got a pretty nice little player."

Escobar was a .252 hitter in his career prior to 2012 when he finished at .293. Once again, he was durable and played 155 games.

All of which makes the Royals' decision to sign Escobar to a long-term contract during Spring Training look very good indeed. He signed for four years, taking the contract through 2015, for a guaranteed $10.5 million and with club options for 2016-17, the deal could be worth $21.75 million.

Worth every penny if he has more years like this.

Kansas City Royals, Alcides Escobar