Matt Esquivel Interview

BravesCenter's Bill Shanks talks with Braves' prospect Matt Esquivel, who is coming off a fantastic season in Myrtle Beach, where he hit .265 with 17 home runs and 81 runs batted in. Esquivel also discusses his switch to first base.

SHANKS: First off, tell me your thoughts on your 2005 season.
ESQUIVEL: I think it went pretty well, knowing that the league was going to be a little tougher than last year or the year before. Going in there with all the guys I had been drafted with, I had a lot of high expectations for myself. So I think the season started off well. We did well as a team. Towards the end I kind of dropped off a little bit, but I think that I've gained enough knowledge from Myrtle Beach to take myself to the next level.

SHANKS: Franklin Stubbs (Myrtle Beach hitting coach) always says that you guys actually get better as hitters there because you learn real quickly that you can't hit for power like you would in a normal park. Do you think you did become a better hitter this season?
ESQUIVEL: I think so. Stubby did a great job all season getting us to be line drive hitters, and not so much lifting the ball and trying to get the ball out of the park and not trying to do too much. From pitch to pitch and at bat to at bat, the main thing is to concentrate on making good swings at the ball and not trying to do too much. I think he did a great job all year of trying to make us be good contact hitters.

SHANKS: And you really became a run producer with 81 RBI. Do you think you are now a prospect that people will look at as a run producer?
ESQUIVEL: I can only hope so. Ever since I've started in the organization I've done a pretty good job of driving runs in. I definitely would say that I'm capable of bringing in a good number of RBI's as anyone else, so I would definitely say I could be on that list as a prospect.

SHANKS: I know they wanted you and Steve Doetsch and Josh Burrus to cut down on your strikeouts. You had the same number (140) that you had in Rome in 2004, but do you feel you're a better hitter now than you were a year ago?
ESQUIVEL: I definitely think so. Without a doubt. Going up there I just have a better knowledge of what I'm trying to accomplish and what I'm trying to do. With that in hand, and having as many at bats as I have in my career, I can only think that I am getting better. I'm seeing the ball a lot more. I'm going up there knowing what to look for instead of just guessing. I think it's definitely made me a better hitter.

SHANKS: And do you hope that as you continue to develop, just the natural progression is going to cut those strikeouts down?
ESQUIVEL: I sure hope so. Nobody likes to have 140 strikeouts. I think so, just being around the game and learning from the coaches and everyone that's been there. So yeah hopefully.

SHANKS: But you are pretty patient at the plate (49 walks), so is that part of your approach?
ESQUIVEL: Somewhat. I would think that I'm more of an aggressive swinger at the plate. Stubby and everybody that I've come across in the Braves' organization like my aggresiveness. They like me just going after the ball, and at where I'm at in the lineup, that's what it's going to take to bring in the RBIs. Be patient, but if you see your pitch, go after it. I'm definitely not up there afraid of striking out. I'm just trying to make something happen.

SHANKS: Ok, when did they approach you about changing positions?
ESQUIVEL: They actually did that with about a month left in the season.

SHANKS: What was your initial reaction?
ESQUIVEL: My initial reaction was that I was skeptical of how they thought I could be an infielder. I have not been an infielder since like I was seven years old. More than anything, I was worried about it holding back my progression and I didn't want to have to go repeat a level, especially with all the progress I've made so far. I couldn't help but think that it was going to hurt me in that way somehow.

SHANKS: Well did they tell you it was more of a numbers thing, with all the outfielders we have, or what?
ESQUIVEL: They just told me that it was a great opportunity. The older guys in the big leagues, like Julio Franco, and that it might give me a spot wherever I could fit in. Obviously, we have these young talented outfielders (up there now). They just felt I was athletic enough to play the position, and that I just had to believe in myself and to believe in their process. They think I'm very capable of doing this, and hearing it that way was the thing that kind of changed my mind about it. I was just going to go out there and give it 100% and see what came out of it. I went to Instructs and they were pretty pleased about what I was trying to do. So I think it could very well work. Anything that can get me to the big leagues is fine with me.

SHANKS: And you've been around long enough to know that the Braves like to have options, and having you improve your versatility just gives them more options, doesn't it?
ESQUIVEL: They very much do. From what they've told me, it fits that description. Just trying to find some way to get me in the lineup and use my bat, whether it's in the outfield or the infield. That's the way they are heading.

SHANKS: So have you ever played first at all?
ESQUIVEL: You know I played first when I was like, you know, when I was real little, maybe even before I was 12 years old.

SHANKS: So you've always been an outfielder?
ESQUIVEL: I really have.

SHANKS: Was Instructs the first time you got out there at first?
ESQUIVEL: I did a little bit of practice after they told me, with a month left in the season. But really the first time was when I got to the Instructional League. That's where I got more hands on with it. Jeff Blauser worked with me everyday, along with Rafael Belliard. For it being the first time, they gave me a lot of compliments as far as how I was playing and how I looked. They also told me that I'd see some time over at first next year, so I'm anxious to see what it's going to be like.

SHANKS: So what's the toughest part about it?
ESQUIVEL: I think just being so close to the batters. It's just a totally different spot. It's more of a hotspot. I mean a ground ball - bang bang you're right there. In the outfield, you have all day to know that the ball is not hit that hard. That and the ball being thrown over and picking them out of the dirt. Just using my body and camping underneath it. The fact is I just stay in the game more. It just felt that I was in the game more. I like that aspect of it.

SHANKS: Is footwork a big part of it?
ESQUIVEL: Yeah I think just being mobile over there. I think that the athleticsm comes into play, and they felt I had enough of it to make the change over there. For being a big guy, I don't think I move too bad over there.

SHANKS: So how do you think you did?
ESQUIVEL: I think I did well. I was a little skeptical about it at first, but as time goes on, like with any position, the more practice I get the better I'll get.

SHANKS: How many games did you play over at first in the Instructional League?
ESQUIVEL: Maybe ten or so.

SHANKS: Did you play in the outfield at all?
ESQUIVEL: No I just played at first the whole time.

SHANKS: So what did they tell you about next season?
ESQUIVEL: Well next season they told me I'd play outfield as well as see some time at first. They didn't tell me how much time. But I'm going to go in thinking I'm going to do both and be ready to play both.

SHANKS: How close do you think you are to being ready for the big leagues?
ESQUIVEL: You know, I think I'm beginning to knock on the door. I think the opportunity could arise at any time. You saw all these young guys get called up so early last season. In my opinion, it's coming up very, very shortly.

SHANKS: And that's got to be exciting to believe that?
ESQUIVEL: Oh, I'm extremely thrilled. It can only make me push myself harder to get to the next level. Just as long as I get my opportunity, just like all these young guys did, that's really all I want.

SHANKS: You know that making it past High-A is a big hump, but especially after watching these kids do what they did last year in making the jump from AA has to make you realize how possible it is for you to make the same jump.
ESQUIVEL: Definitely, moreso in the fact that all these guys that got called up are the ones I played with. They are such close friends. Even seeing guys that aren't in our organization that I played with or against at some point are now in the big leagues it makes it seem so real. When you first start, you think there's no possibility that you get to the bigs, but as it happens more frequently to the people you know, it becomes more real and that pushes you.

SHANKS: And you have to know after last season, with the success you had, that you are getting closer?
ESQUIVEL: Year-to-year it travels over to the next season. The better you do, it just makes you work harder to do better the next season. As long as you have the drive to be better than the year before, it'll make you a better player.


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com.



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