11/05/2002 7:04 pm ET
Ibanez receives Joe Burke award
By Robert Falkoff / MLB.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Raul Ibanez's rags-to-riches story with the
Royals has yet another chapter.
After a breakout 2002 season in which he batted .294 with 24 home runs and
103 RBIs, Ibanez has received the Joe Burke Special Achievement
Award in a vote by the Kansas City Chapter of the Baseball Writers
Association of America.
Not bad for a guy who just a year earlier was designated for assignment twice.
Fortunately for the Royals, Ibanez cleared waivers both times. The Royals reeled Ibanez back in and he has now become a fixture in the middle of the
lineup along with Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney.
"I've had some time to reflect on my season and I'm really happy about
it," said Ibanez. "But now, my mindset goes to improving for next year."
Ibanez believes his Special Achievement Award can, in large part, be
traced to the hitting tips he received from former Royal Kevin Seitzer.
Ironically, Seitzer won the same award in 1987.
Ibanez said that after he was designated for assignment on June 8, 2001, he spent three days totaling about six hours with Seitzer. After Ibanez's
swing got a makeover, he went on to hit .298 from June 19 through the end
of the 2001 season. Ibanez struggled for the opening one-fourth of the
2002 season, but then turned it on against both righties and lefties to
become one of the most proficient hitters in the American League.
"Kevin gave me a great approach," the left-handed-hitting Ibanez said. "My
whole life, I had hit, but I really didn't know how to hit. My swing got
shorter. My approach went immediately to left-center no matter what."
After the Seitzer lessons, Ibanez was on his way. He quickly made it back
up to the Royals and said former hitting coach Lamar Johnson kept him
locked in. Success brought more at-bats and more at-bats brought success.
Ibanez, 30, was a two-time Royals' Player of the Month in 2002. He played
left field, right field, first base and added some pop as a designated
Although the Royals aren't sure what position Ibanez will play in 2003, they are sure that they need his bat on an everyday basis. Ibanez isn't hung up on having one set position.
"I really don't mind," Ibanez said. "That keeps it interesting. Wherever they think I can best help the team, I'm ready to play there."
Ibanez, who made $800,000 last season, is arbitration eligible. The Royals hope to eventually work out a deal with Ibanez before a possible aribitration hearing and Ibanez said he would be receptive to a multi-year
arrangement, although he hasn't thought yet about figures.
"It's not a big deal to me right now," Ibanez said. "The Royals have off-season (free agent) priorities. Obviously, a Paul Byrd you need to sign right away."
Ibanez suffered a left thumb ligament strain last Sept. 12 that caused him to miss a week's worth of games as he was sitting on 99 runs batted in. He returned to crack the 100-RBI barrier and hopes to carry that
hitting momentum into the 2003 season.
While Ibanez takes some satisfaction in his personal success, it's team success that he craves most.
"We have to get better everywhere," Ibanez said. "When you lose 100 games, you can't point the finger at any one thing."
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.