Swapping Trades

Espino happy he made move behind the plate




KANSAS CITY—Damaso Espino did not take kindly to the news in 2005 that the Royals were switching him to catcher.

"I was mad. I was sad," Espino said. "I was thinking a lot of bad things. I was surprised. I was in high-A, playing third base every day. All of a sudden, they told me the news."

Espino sings a different song now.

"I've been catching three years now," he said. "I love it. It's my favorite position. I'm real happy with it. Now I understand it. It's definitely one of the best things to happen to me. They made me understand it better. I bought into it. I worked hard at it. I'm pretty happy about it now."

Espino lacks the pop to be a corner infielder—eight home runs in 2,237 minor league at-bats entering this season—but he has the arm and the intellect to catch.

"I know my pitchers. I have a good relationship with pitchers," he said. "I understand it. I can talk to them. I can learn from them. I try to teach them a little bit. Basically, it makes sense for me, for my work ethic and my mindset to play that position."

The 25-year-old Espino was originally signed by the Reds out of Panama in 1999 and was acquired by the Royals in a four-player deal in 2003. He started slowly last season with Double-A Wichita, hitting .194 in April and .175 in May, but hit at a .294 clip the rest of the season. Espino acknowledged that his hitting philosophy changed when he moved to catcher.

Farm director J.J. Picollo cited Espino's progress as a reason for re-signing him after he was eligible for minor league free agency.

"He's a guy that at the end of the season our staff felt really good about," Picollo said. "He's a converted player. As the year went on, he handled the bat well, handles pitchers well. He really has played himself into a spot where we have to keep an eye on what he's doing and how he's progressing behind the plate."

ROYALTIES

• The Royals honored longtime scout/front-office official Art Stewart by having him watch the team's home opener from the seat once occupied by Buck O'Neil. The Royals have used the location to honor those who share O'Neil's ideals. Stewart is to be inducted into the team's hall of fame.

• The Royals released lefthander Matt Campbell, a 2004 first-round pick who missed the majority of 2005 and all of 2006 after having shoulder surgery.