Alcides Escobar is known, for good reason, as a defense first shortstop. Indeed, his penchant for making the spectacular play seem routine is quite remarkable, and was recognized in his Gold Glove nomination this past season. Yet, the shortstop position has evolved. In a time where teams expect actual offensive production from the position, Escobar is a throwback to days gone by, where glove first middle infielders reigned supreme.
Those days, however, have seemingly long since passed. No longer is it feasible to start a player with limited offensive value at short, especially at a time when players such as Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond and Elvis Andrus are all providing excellent offense from the position. The time of being able to start a player such as Mark Belanger or Rafael Belliard is over.
Yet, despite Belliard being known as a non-entity with the bat, Escobar actually was not that far off from that type of production. Following his 2012 season where Escobar hit .293/.331/.390, he appeared as though he could become a viable hitter, especially if he was able to learn to take a walk. Instead, Escobar put together a decidedly Belliard-esque season, hitting a paltry .234/.259/.300. While his 22 stolen bases without being caught were nice, that speed was not nearly as much of an asset as it should have been since Escobar simply was unable to get on base.
With the defense that Escobar is able to provide, it is generally thought that any offense he provides is simply a bonus. However, considering the trouble that the Royals had scoring runs at times last season, having a player who could be an almost automatic out in the lineup just does not make sense. The Royals need Escobar to embrace what he is, a player with a lot of speed that should be able to slap the ball the other way and get doubles and triples out of line drives in the gap. But can Escobar become that type of player on a consistent basis?
In the end, that is the biggest question when it comes to Alcides Escobar – can he bring his offense back to the level it was at in 2012? Was that season a blip on the radar, or is he capable of being that type of hitter once again? Escobar’s defense may be able to keep him in the lineup at this point, but sooner or later, he is going to need to start hitting as well.