The secret to Escobar's success? It's the Omar factor
MAY 01, 2014 12:12p ET
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When the Royals signed second baseman Omar Infante to a four-year deal last December, they knew they were about to fill what had been a gaping hole on the team for quite some time.
And they also suspected they were getting a player in Infante who would have a peripheral impact on his teammates.
"Every one we talked to about Omar," general manager Dayton Moore said, "told us that he will be a solid professional and he will make everyone around him better."
The Royals are seeing that perhaps most noticeably in the player to Infante's immediate right on the diamond -- shortstop Alcides Escobar.
Escobar is playing the best ball quite possibly of his professional career. (Granted, 26 games is a rather small sample size.)
Escobar continues to play superb defense -- those around him say he strongly covets a Gold Glove this season to join fellow Royals recipients Alex Gordon, Sal Perez and Eric Hosmer.
And to the surprise of many, Escobar has made a significant impact at the plate, where he is hitting .287 with a .761 OPS.
Even more stunning is that Escobar drew seven walks in April. (Hey, baby steps, my friends, baby steps.)
"Seven, I know. That's not bad for one month," Escobar said, smiling.
Certainly not for Escobar, who has been one of the toughest players in baseball to walk during his relatively brief career.
Escobar never has drawn more than 27 walks in a season in three years in KC. He drew only 19 all of last season (when he hit a career-low .234 with a career-low .259 on-base percentage).
One American League scout said of Escobar this season: "This is the best he has played, all-around, in his career. If he can maintain this, he could rise up to the top level of all-around shortstops. He seems to have stopped lunging so much at the plate, less impatient. Somebody got to him, mentally. Not sure he can maintain this. We'll see."
The Royals, though, certainly are hopeful, especially with Infante's veteran presence around.
"What you're seeing with Esky is the influence of Infante," manager Ned Yost said. "Esky watches Omar and he watches what Omar's routine is, how he prepares every day, and all that is rubbing off."
Escobar does acknowledge there has been some bonding with Infante.
"Yeah, it has helped," he said. "That is a good guy to follow. He's had multiple years, 10 years in the league. We talk a lot.
"We've been good friends now. He's from Venezuela, like me. He's a good guy. I like to play with guys like that."
Escobar said the two were acquainted before Infante became a Royal.
"I knew him before, through friends," he said. "Now I talk to him all the time. I talk to him about shortstop, about hitting, about everything."
And yes, Escobar does admit that he watches how Infante goes about his daily business.
"It makes sense," he said. "He knows. He's an intelligent guy. He knows how to do a lot of things. He talks to me a lot, trying to tell me to do this, and do that."
And that guidance has made a big difference with Escobar's plate approach.
"Oh, yeah. He sees what I try to do at the plate," Escobar said. "He's really good at concentrating at the plate and he teaches me how to do that."
The biggest difference that fans and observers have noticed is that Escobar seems to have developed more plate awareness.
"I'm trying to focus on the strike zone and just trying to hit my pitch," he said. "I'm trying to hit only the balls in the strike zone, not the balls that are down and away. That's the hard thing.
"Sometimes I still do. But it's not all the time. It's not wild (like it was)."
And Escobar is acutely aware of how many walks he is taking, despite what some fans might think. He knows fans get frustrated with his impatience at the plate.
"I don't know, man. I'm trying," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm trying to get at least more than 40 (walks) this season."
Another area that Escobar said he wants to improve upon is bunting. In 2012, when he hit .293, he laid down 27 bunts, eight of which went for sacrifices and 11 more for hits.
This season, he has bunted only four times, producing one sacrifice and two hits.
"I like to bunt whenever," he said. "If there are guys on first or second or whatever, I will try to bunt. I want to bunt for hits. That will come. It really can help your average."
For now, Escobar continues to work diligently on plate discipline. It's a work in progress, obviously.
"I feel like I'm strong and confident," he said. "I feel good. I just have to continue to do it. I keep trying."
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.