He was arguably the Braves’ best player last season, hitting .299 with 14 homers and 76 RBI, all the while playing solid defense.
In his first three seasons in the majors, he’s already proven to be a consistent force, posting a .301 career average.
In 2009, his .373 batting average with runners in scoring position ranked third in all of baseball, making him one of the most dangerous hitters to face in clutch situations.
He is also considered one of the most underrated shortstops in the majors.
Defensively, he’s got the tools and potential to be a gold glover. In his final 75 games last season, he showcased his cannon for an arm and accuracy by only committing two errors.
And, while he’s never stolen more than five bases in a season, his goal of swiping between 20-25 bags in 2010 doesn’t seem out of reach with his speed and athleticism.
So, why is Yunel Escobar’s name frequent fodder for trade rumors?
The Cuban defect has been portrayed in the media as being arrogant, cocky, and abrasive.
Escobar has experienced a series of public blunders that have many around baseball wondering if Atlanta’s shortstop’s “bad attitude” will derail his talented career?
Last year, while in the middle of another productive season, Escobar was removed from a game for a perceived lack of focus and was subsequently benched by manager Bobby Cox.
This move made waves in the Atlanta media because Cox is notoriously known for being a player’s manager and an advocate for his troops. His willingness to make an example of Escobar showed the growing frustration within the organization of their young shortstop’s antics.
Later in the season, Escobar endured more public scrutiny after he took offense to a ruled error and then made what many believed was an inappropriate gesture towards the press box.
There is an assumption that Escobar plays with a chip on his shoulder and as a result of his previous transgressions, accusations began to run rampant about the seriousness and legitimacy of a hip injury he nursed on and off last season.
So is Yunel Escobar really the brash young man the media has made him out to be?
I don’t think so.
The 27-year-old Escobar, who is still in need of an English interpreter, thinks the misconception surrounding him stems from the strenuous language and culture barrier he’s experienced since arriving in the states from Cuba in 2007.
While Latin players are often known for their aggressive, no nonsense style of play, Escobar believes he too is just a product of that model and claims to have a great respect for the game.
I tend to believe him.
I had the pleasure of meeting and “talking” baseball with Escobar last season, and did not come away with the impression of an entitled, spoiled ballplayer.
In fact, I was left with quite the opposite opinion.
Escobar’s initial struggle to communicate with me and his need to use his Latin teammates who do speak the language as interpreters, showed me a very vulnerable and human side of the man that isn’t seen on the baseball diamond.
It was my belief that Escobar often chooses not to talk because he’s embarrassed that he won’t be understood or that he’ll say something stupid.
Once he got comfortable in his element with his fellow teammates, he started trying to communicate on his own and actually came across to me as very intelligent and surprisingly humble.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a definite confidence that Escobar exudes, the very confidence that makes him the dynamic ballplayer he is on the field. But it doesn’t come without similar insecurities that we all face, in some aspect everyday.
This season, Escobar is about to tackle those insecurities and take a big step in trying to change the public persona about him.
It has been reported that Escobar has vowed to finally commit to learning English as a way to ease the tension between himself and the media.
He’s tired of being a subject of off the field distractions, and this is his chance to silence his critics once and for all and win their praise and accolades for his work on the field.
Escobar’s poised and determined to show people the real man behind the myth.
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