Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 3/17/12
SURPRISE, Ariz. The Milwaukee Brewers long admired Alcides Escobar's ability at shortstop, so much so that they parted with longtime starter J.J. Hardy to make room for the young prospect at the major league level. With just two big league seasons under his belt, Escobar was rewarded with a four-year contract extension this week.Unfortunately for the Brewers, he signed that deal with the Kansas City Royals.Escobar, 25, was one of four highly regarded prospects sent by the Brewers to Kansas City for right-hander Zack Greinke in December 2010. The deal obviously worked for Milwaukee, where Greinke went 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA last season and helped lead the Brewers into the playoffs for the second time in four seasons.Some have questioned whether Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin gave up too much to land the former Cy Young winner. In addition to Escobar, the Royals got center fielder Lorenzo Cain and minor league pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi."We're in a position where we are trying to win now," Melvin said. "The Royals were building for the future. How good those players we sent to Kansas City are still remains to be seen."Right now, it appears those four players will be instrumental in helping the Royals try to get out of the American League Central basement, much like Hardy, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart and Ryan Braun did for the Brewers in the middle portion of the decade.Since 1990, the Royals have had just three winning seasons, the last coming in 2003 when they went 83-79. Kansas City manager Ned Yost knew plenty about the new additions last winter and knows a thing or two about helping turn around the fortunes of a moribund franchise: he was the Brewers' manager from 2003 until his dismissal with 12 games left in the 2008 season, as the Brewers limped toward their first playoff appearance in 26 years.Locking up Escobar for four years is a big step toward a similar turnaround in Kansas City."I've loved this kid from the moment I laid eyes on him," Yost told reporters at the Royals' spring training facility. "He's a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop. Personally, I think he's the best shortstop in the American League, if not all of baseball."Defense was never a concern with Escobar. His offense, however, has been a work in progress since he came to the major leagues. A career .293 hitter in the minors, Escobar hit just .235 in 2010, his first full-time season in Milwaukee. Last season, he hit .254 with 21 doubles and 46 RBI, but Yost is confident that with time, Escobar will become a much better hitter."We've talked on many occasions how I think he's going to continue to grow offensively," Yost said. "He's just scratching the surface of what he's going to be able to accomplish offensively."Escobar isn't the only of the four prospects making a good impression. Cain, also 25, looked like he may be the Brewers' center fielder of the future. He took over for a struggling Carlos Gomez late in the 2010 season and finished with a .306 average and 11 doubles in 46 games.He spent a majority of last season with Omaha, the Royals' Class AAA affiliate, where he hit .312 with 28 doubles, 16 home runs and 81 RBI. In six games with the big league club, Cain hit .273 (6-for-22).On Friday, Cain went 2-for-3 in the Royals' 9-4 Cactus League victory over the Brewers, raising his spring training average to .480 (12-for-25). He also made an impressive play in the field, running down a long drive to left-center by Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy."That was a tough ball," Yost said. "The ball kept going. It just carried and carried and carried. You could see Lorenzo had that extra gear that he could get into to get it. Thats a nice attribute to have out there."Jeffress, the Brewers first-round pick in 2006, also went against his former team Friday. He allowed two runs on three hits in an inning of work and in four spring outings has a 2.67 ERA in five innings of work.The 24-year-old appeared in 14 games for the Royals last season, going 1-1 with a 4.70 ERA. Kansas City thinks it has a nucleus of players to snap a long string of losing. The Brewers are happy with the way things turned out on their end but acknowledge they gave up some quality along the way."Those guys we sent to Kansas City are good players." Melvin said. "They'd be helping us right now if they were here."Follow Andrew Wagner on Twitter.
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