03/20/12 8:04 PM ET
Choice to attend Vandy invaluable to Esposito
Orioles prospect was a seventh-round Draft pick of Royals in '08
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Back in 2008, Esposito was a pretty good high school prospect from Connecticut, but many teams were scared off because of a commitment to Vanderbilt. The Kansas City Royals made a run at signing him after taking him in the seventh round, but the Royals weren't the first team to get shunned by a Vandy-bound player.
Three years later, he improved his spot in the Draft, being taken last June by the Orioles in the second round, but the decision to go to school cost him a reported $900,000. If there's any regret about that decision, Esposito hides it extremely well.
"I don't even remember what happened before Vanderbilt," Esposito said with a smile before taking the field for a Minor League game against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday.
Esposito feels the experience he had at Vanderbilt was invaluable, with much of the credit he gives having very little to do with baseball. This may come as a shock, but kids coming out of high school may not always be ready for the real world, even if they're pretty good and playing baseball.
"Everybody talks about preparation," Esposito said. "You prepare to succeed in everything you do -- the way you practice, the way you go about things, time management. You learn so much about maturity. You learn how to grow up, how to be a man, especially at Vanderbilt. Under [the coaching staff] and all the academic support there, they really taught you how life was going to be outside of baseball. They took baseball away a lot. They said, 'This is how we want you to be as a person, honest and trustworthy. Just go out and be a person like this, and that's all we can ask for.'"
That maturity has been readily apparent during Esposito's first Spring Training as a professional. It might be his first rodeo, but he doesn't act like it.
"It's certainly noticeable with him," Orioles farm director John Stockstill said. "He has a good head on his shoulders and is ready to do what it takes to get his career on the path to get to the big leagues."
The biggest thing is simply to be able to get out there and play. Esposito didn't sign until the mid-August deadline last summer, so outside of instructional league and the games he's played this spring, the third baseman hasn't played a whole lot of baseball.
"It's tough, especially when you go through a whole summer without playing," Esposito said. "In college, you start from January and go to July. It's tough to have an offseason that's almost a year off. It's finally good to get back out here, see the baseball thrown from 60 feet and be out here with the guys."
It's particularly important for Esposito to see that baseball thrown from 60 feet, because most assessments of his abilities include that his bat is behind his glove. His defense is top notch at third, with a plus arm and good hands. He had skills in high school, but once again, that college time clearly impacted who he is as a player.
"I know defense was harped on a lot at Vandy," Esposito said. "It's something we took a lot of pride in. It's something we practiced a lot. When you try and play baseball, defense wins games like everyone says. You want to help your team any way you can."
Third basemen are typically expected to help teams win with more than their glove. The profile for a corner infielder usually includes a run-producing and power-laden bat. It's not that Esposito can't hit. In three years, he compiled a .330/.405/.514 line in school.
Besides, maybe the whole profile thing is overrated. Stockstill worked for the Cubs for years, and they had Mark Grace at first base. What made it acceptable for Chicago to have a non-power-hitting corner infielder like Grace? Having a second baseman like Ryne Sandberg to fill the power need. The point, Stockstill said, is there are ways to offset it.
That is, of course, putting the cart before the horse. Esposito has yet to play a single official professional game and there's a lot yet to be determined, with it too soon to draw conclusions about who Esposito is as a player, even if it appears like power won't be a big part of his game.
"Appears is a good word," said Stockstill, who also wouldn't rule out looking at Esposito at other positions in the future, like second base. "He is strong for his size. I wouldn't rule out him having power at this point."
He handles the bat fairly well and is definitely the type, as he said, to do whatever it takes offensively to help his team win, even if that means non-traditional third-baseman-type things like bunting. And Esposito is pretty sharp. He's heard all about how someone at his position is supposed to provide power, and he'll readily admit there will be times he'll try to muscle up to fit the profile better.
"Maybe in BP," Esposito laughed.