Scout Compares Escobar to Renteria

The Braves second round pick earlier this month is already off to a solid professional start. Yunel Escobar is hitting .455 in his first six games in Danville. BravesCenter's Bill Shanks talked recently with the Braves' scout that signed Escobar, Florida area scout Gregg Kilby.

SHANKS: Let's talk about Escobar. How long have you been watching him?
KILBY: I got an opportunity to see him work out five times, four of those in game situations. One of them it was raining really bad, this was actually the first time I saw him. He was in the cages and just hitting and he took some ground balls in the cage. It was covered. Then I saw him play after that. He would take batting practice, run the 60, and then they'd always play. One time they played against a junior college club, and a few times they played against some players that had just been released and ex professional players. I had an opportunity to see him quite a bit. He defected back in the fall. He's been here seven or eight months. He just started working out there for the different clubs as the draft got closer.could and not embarrass himself. It's not like he's a small kid that needs to get strength. I just think he needs some experience. Next year, is that too soon? I don't know. It'll have to play itself out.

SHANKS: Brayan Pena told me that when Escobar defected it was rough. Do you know anything about his situation when he defected?
KILBY: I don't know the entire story. From what I heard, which was second hand because he doesn't speak English, and I don't speak a lot of Spanish. I drove him up to report to that mini-camp on Thursday, and it was a two hour drive and it was funny because anytime I would try to say something to him I have a buddy that was fluent in Spanish, so I would call him up on a cell phone and pass it over to Yunel. We were talking back and forth through my buddy on the cell phone. They switched agents a few times, so evidently an agent had arranged to have him come over. Then when they got here the agent didn't have the money to pay the guys who had gotten him out. They met someone on the boat whose dad had arranged to bring him over, and to make a long story short this guy ended up paying the smugglers to get Yunel over. They ended up staying at that man's house. He seems to be a real nice guy. Luckily they were able to get hooked up with some real nice people down here.

SHANKS: He was on a boat for how long?
KILBY: I don't know. I didn't really get in to that with him too much. I don't know how long they were on there, but any boat trip from there to here, when you're under that kind of pressure, can't be an easy thing to do.

SHANKS: And he was coming from Cuba or somewhere else?
KILBY: Yeah it was from Cuba.

SHANKS: Do you guys have anybody, any bird dog scouts in Cuba that can tell you anything about these Cuban kids?
KILBY: Not that I'm aware of. Not that I think so.

SHANKS: So you just started watching him when he came over?
KILBY: Yeah. Everyone kind of knew there was a group of six guys that had defected. With the agent thing being uncertain…usually what happens is guys will come over, they'll defect, and then they'll go to a third country to establish their residency there, and then they'll become free agents which produces a bidding war between all 30 clubs. That's kind of an extensive process, and with the new rules after 9/11 on how tough it is to get residency and to enter a country from a third country it's just a longer process. So these guys made the decision to apply to go through the draft.

SHANKS: When did we get serious on him?
KILBY: Roy actually flew down here to watch Chris Volstad and Tyler Herrin pitch against each other. I knew these (Cuban) guys were going to be working out at 4:00. That night game didn't start until 7:00. I told Roy, ‘Hey these Cuban guys are working out. It's not too far from the field we're going to. So let's go over and check them out and then go to the high school game.' Well, it was raining really badly, so that was the day we saw them in the cages – it wasn't inside but it was covered. The other two (Cuban) position players aren't that bad, but he (Escobar) stood out. To say I was serious at that point, well he piqued your interest enough to find out where they were playing next so we could be there. So the next day Roy sees the high school kids and then flies out. They played that next Friday down in Miami – Dade Community College. When I got to the field I was looking for the guy who said he was their representative the first time. He wasn't there, and then there was a new guy. So I thought, ‘is this something we really need to get involved with.' Then I saw the kid play, and I got on the phone with Roy immediately and said, ‘this kid can play. We've got to follow him.' That's when I knew we had to do whatever we could to follow up on him because he had talent.

SHANKS: So what really caught your eye?
KILBY: Well he's just advanced. I don't think he ever played on the Cuban National Team. He played on the Junior National team.

SHANKS: And that's what Brayan Pena played on with him, correct?
KILBY: Yes. But he's just advanced. He's physically strong. I know some people that say they don't think he's 6'2", but I've stood right with him and he's 6'2". He's strong, about 200 pounds. He's put together well. He plays the game with confidence. He's got a lot of confidence in his glove and his hands. He's got good hands and a good glove, but he's just got a rocket for an arm. I haven't seen Furcal's arm in person, but everybody says it's an 80 (perfect on a scouting scale). This kid has got probably a 70 arm.

SHANKS: Now have you seen him play third?
KILBY: No I've just seen him play short.

SHANKS: Brayan Pena told me Escobar has also played third base.
KILBY: Yeah he may have in the past, but since he's been here in all these workouts he's just played shortstop. Watching him take BP the ball really comes off his bat well. He's got strength and he's got power to center and right. I think the pull power is going to come with some slight adjustments. He can really drive the ball out to center and right-center. The ball comes off his bat well. He would lead off every inning, so we got to see him hit every inning. He can swing the bat. A lot of time Latin guys don't take a lot of pitches. They swing at balls out of the zone. But he's got a real good feel for the strike zone and he doesn't swing at pitches out of the zone. He waits for his pitch and drives it when he gets it. He's got an advanced and confident approach to the game.

SHANKS: So you think the power will be there?
KILBY: Yeah. He's going to hit some home runs to center and right field now. He kind of wraps his top hand around the bat a little bit and that hinders his power to the pull side. I think that's an easy correction. I think he's going to be able to drive the ball out to left once he makes the adjustment.

SHANKS: How far away do you think he could be from the majors?
KILBY: He could be close. We're just going to see how he does with the adjustment. The one thing we forget about him is that he's in a brand new country and he doesn't speak the language. I know our people will take care of him. I'm not worried about that, but there are a lot of cultural differences with the language barrier. But he's a well-traveled young man with the Junior National Team. They traveled a lot. He's used to that. I hope he'll be able to move quickly.

SHANKS: You know the questions the fans have is whether or not he might be a candidate to replace Furcal if Furcal leaves via free agency this winter.
KILBY: That's something for the player development people to decide. In my report I have in there that he's advanced and can move quickly. If he's 22 he'd be a college senior. He'd be way advanced for a college senior. He won't start at AA, but I think he could and not embarrass himself. It's not like he's a small kid that needs to get strength. I just think he needs some experience. Next year, is that too soon? I don't know. It'll have to play itself out.

SHANKS: Whom do you compare him to?
KILBY: I thought he was similar to Edgar Renteria. He's similar in body type to Edgar Renteria. He may be a little stronger physically. That's who I thought who he looks like. He plays like him a little bit. He's a good kid, too. When I first made that call to Roy and I saw him that first day in the rain, I had a little apprehension because we didn't know anything about him. You know how we are with the background and the makeup. But the more I got to know the kid, and even though we didn't really communicate one-on-one in terms of the language, the more I was around him the more comfortable I was with him. He's a good kid. He's outgoing and happy. He seems to be a real good kid. And then with the background we got from Pena that made it easier to make the decision as well.

SHANKS: Were you surprised that he was there at 75?
KILBY: I was. There were some clubs that were on him that had a pick or two between 41 and 75 that I didn't think he would get there. The Red Sox, Marlins, Twins, and a few others were in on him. I think we got a good value there in the second round. There were just some unknowns there that we may have an advantage over those guys.


Bill Shanks has a new book out called "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team." Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com.

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