- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2005

VIERA, Fla. — Outfielder Alex Escobar once was considered one of the top prospects in baseball, and Washington Nationals teammate Seth Greisinger learned why in an intrasquad game yesterday.

Greisinger had encountered little trouble before he faced Escobar in the second inning. Then he threw his first changeup, and Escobar deposited it on a party platform beyond Space Coast Stadium’s left-field fence.

“That’s one pitch I wanted to take back,” Greisinger said. “Other than that, I was throwing strikes and getting ground balls.”

Said Escobar, who also delivered a run-scoring single later, “I feel pretty good right now. I feel that my swing is there.”

Nationals manager Frank Robinson didn’t want to talk about Escobar yesterday, saying it’s too early to determine what he needs to do to make the team. If Escobar keeps swinging the bat like he did yesterday, Robinson will face a difficult choice.

That was an option the manager didn’t have a month ago. The Nationals acquired the right-handed hitter from the Chicago White Sox for minor league outfielder Jerry Owens on Feb. 12.

“We made the decision to make the deal prior to spring training because we really felt if Escobar went to camp with the White Sox and [Chicago general manager] Kenny Williams was able to see him, we probably wouldn’t be able to get him,” Nationals interim general manager Jim Bowden said. “We made the decision on the player we were trading [Owens] that we didn’t feel he would be an everyday player in the big leagues.”

Escobar, a native of Valencia, Venezuela, might emerge as an option in center field this spring. Endy Chavez, who had a .318 on-base percentage last year with the Montreal Expos, is the Nationals’ incumbent center fielder and leadoff hitter.

“Whatever the possibilities are, I don’t have control over them,” Escobar said. “I’m not thinking about it. I’m not worried about it. I’m just playing every day, and we’ll see what happens.”

Escobar was named the New York Mets’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 18 prospect in baseball by Baseball America in 2001. Though he struggled to match the hype that accompanied his rise through the Mets’ system, Bowden thinks the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder could be a late bloomer.

“His potential is incredible,” Bowden said. “In our job, we want to see that potential in the performance. The more choices you can give the manager, the more competition you can create, the better team you’re going to have.

“We all want Endy Chavez to make adjustments and become the leadoff hitter he has the potential of becoming. You always have to have Plan B, C, D and E in case Plan A doesn’t work.”

Escobar emerged as an elite prospect after hitting .310 with 27 homers and 91 RBI in 1998 at Capital City of the Class A South Atlantic League as a 19-year-old. After missing nearly all of 1999 with injuries, he turned in a solid .288-16-67 season at Class AA Binghamton in 2000.

Escobar came up to the Mets late in the 2001 season but was shipped to Cleveland in December 2001 as part of an eight-player deal. Injuries continued to hinder Escobar. His Cleveland debut was delayed after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in a 2002 spring training game.

In parts of three seasons in the majors, Escobar has a .229 batting average with nine home runs and 34 RBI over 92 games. He has a .309 on-base percentage and a .369 slugging percentage for his career.

Last year with the Indians, Escobar broke his right foot and played in just 62 games with Cleveland and Class AAA Buffalo. The White Sox claimed Escobar, who can play all three outfield positions, off waivers Aug.17, but injuries prevented him from playing in Chicago.

Now Escobar believes he’s healthy and ready to make a contribution at the major league level.

“The toughest part is being away from the game,” Escobar said. “I don’t care what people say, I know what I can do. … This is just another opportunity for me, and I’m back and healthy, so I’m going to do everything possible to keep myself in the lineup.”

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