After earning a Wild Card berth, the Kansas City Royals have gone on a tear. They bested the Oakland Athletics in a dramatic comeback, and have proceeded to sweep the Los Angeles Angels and Baltimore Orioles. The bullpen has been dominant, and Lorenzo Cain had a huge ALCS, recording eight hits and reaching base 10 times. However, the solid play of shortstop Alcides Escobar has been key to the Royals‘ success both in the regular season and the postseason.
A native of Venezuela, Escobar was signed by the Milwaukee Brewers as an international free agent in 2003. He made a brief showing in the big leagues as a September callup in 2008, and earned 134 plate appearances the following season. 2010 was Escobar’s first full year in the major leagues. Offensively he was a lightweight, hitting .235/.288/.326.
In the offseason, the Brewers sent him to the Royals along with Lorenzo Cain in the trade that netted them Zack Greinke. Escobar had a slightly better year in 2011. He blossomed offensively in 2012, hitting .293/.331/.390, for a respectable 97 wRC+. Escobar also swiped 35 bases in 40 attempts.
Last season the speedy shortstop’s offensive production plummeted to .234/.259/.300 for a miserable 49 wRC+. His glove and the Royals lack of alternative options kept him on the field for 158 games.
This year the Royals shortstop has put it together offensively and defensively. He’s essentially replicated his batting line from 2011, while playing stellar defense and stealing 31 bases in 6 attempts. Escobar has 34 doubles, which is a career-high, and his .285/.317/.377 line rounds out to a 94 wRC+. With his defensive contributions, he’s accumulated 3.5 fWAR, easily the best number of his career. Among American League shortstops, only Erick Aybar had more fWAR.
Against the A’s Escobar knocked two singles in four plate appearances, and also made two successful sacrifice bunts and stole a base. He didn’t do much with the bat against the Angels, netting just two singles and a double in 14 trips to the plate with five strikeouts. But, his excellent defense served to take away hits on more than one occasion.
Escobar shined against the Orioles, putting up a .278/.316/.500 slash line. His home run in the 3rd inning of Game One gave the Royals a 1-0 lead. It was a rare display of power for someone who hit just three home runs during the regular season and has never five home runs in a season.
Manager Ned Yost has been utilizing Escobar at the top of the Royals lineup. That approach has worked out for the Royals, though they would be better served to place a hitter with a higher on-base percentage in that spot. Teammates Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon have received a bigger share of the spotlight, but Escobar has been very important to the Royals success.