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Mike Aviles

My favorite part of the 2008 season was the young shortstop who came up from the minors in May after Tony Pena, Jr. proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he simply could not hit Major League pitching. Sadly for Aviles, his Major League debut was an 0-3 effort against the Twins. That earned him a seat on the bench for the next week. In the world of Trey Hillman* he had seen enough. Finally about a week later, the Royals were in New York. Aviles was from New York, so Hillman threw him a bone and gave him a start. Mike went 2-3 with two doubles and was a starter the rest of the year.

*So good ol’ Trey was hired by the Dodgers to be their bench coach. Not only do I think Hillman was a terrible manager who was in way over his head, but as a person, I think he’s pretty scummy as well. He insulted the fans, said one thing and did another and was just generally unlikable in his time with the Royals. I have nothing against the Dodgers, so I hope he succeeds in his role as not the man, but I have some hopes that he does something so stupid that he gets fired within his first month on the job.

A real life shortstop who can hit? Pinch me!

So Aviles was a starter and quickly became one of my favorite players. He played with intensity, he was good defensively, he could hit and he did it with a little pop as well as evidenced by his 41 extra base hits. For a franchise bereft of shortstops, the Royals appeared to have found theirs for at least the next couple of seasons. The thing that most impressed me about Aviles was his ability to make adjustments. Starting on July 1 of his rookie year, Aviles had a stretch of five straight games spanning 16 at bats without a hit. It looked like the magic was gone and he was a career minor leaguer for a reason.

The next day he began a 12 game hitting streak and a stretch where he hit in 22 out of 25. It wasn’t empty either. Those 25 games came with 15 extra base hits. As late as August 3, Aviles was hitting .340/.365/.550. That obviously came down, but there were three or four other times when he had a very rough three to six game stretch and came back on fire after making adjustments.

If you’re reading this, you know what happened in 2009. The season was basically lost to injury and Aviles underwent Tommy John surgery. Of course, this led to the acquisition of Yuniesky Betancourt which meant that the Royals had replaced one of my favorites with one of my least favorites. The Royals thought there was a chance that Aviles would never make it back at 100% and if he did, he might not be a shortstop, so they had to go out and fill a huge organizational hole. They had lucked into Aviles and their luck had run out.

Spring training 2010 began with faint hope that Aviles would be able to come back by May or so, but most believed that was rushing the timetable a bit.

Then a funny thing happened. He tore the cover off the ball in spring training. With Alex Gordon beginning the season on the DL with a broken thumb, the Royals didn’t have much choice but to put Aviles on the roster. He didn’t make it through the first week before he was sent back down to play every day. He was just okay in AAA, but had to be recalled when Chris Getz injured himself.He was back in the majors as the second baseman and early on wasn’t walking at all, but was really hitting. His defense was average at best, but you can life with that for the bat he was providing.

Then, predictably, he went into a slump and for awhile looked like he couldn’t muscle a ball out of the infield. Looking back, you have to think that he wasn’t even close to healthy when he came back. From Aviles’ perspective, you can sort of understand why he pushed himself, though. The organization wasn’t terribly thrilled with him for not disclosing his injury earlier in 2009 and they hadn’t exactly given him the benefit of the doubt throughout his career.He was still hitting through June, though the power had disappeared almost entirely. Then, he just stopped hitting at all during July and most of August. He’d get a hit here or there, but it was never anything with any authority. To make matters worse, his defense was pretty bad as well. This time, it looked very real that the fairy tale was over. In a span of 22 games, Aviles hadn’t had a single extra base hit.

Then, a funny thing happened. He just started to swing hard and didn’t hold back anymore. And he started hitting the ball with authority. In September, his numbers were reminiscent of 2008. He hit .333/.364/.568 and with Hillman gone, he appeared to make a fun out of Ned Yost. My postulation (and undoubtedly others) is that he was finally healthy and wasn’t concerned about absolutely letting loose and swinging as hard as he can. It was a welcome sight. I think I wrote here that during a game in September he hit a ball to center that was a routine flyball out, but just a month before that would have seemed like a mammoth shot for him. That’s how bad he was going.

So now as we look forward to 2011 and beyond, we need to figure out exactly where Aviles fits. For 2011, it looks like he’ll play either second base or third base. At least until Moustakas comes up, that is. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Chris Getz, so my choice is for Aviles to play somewhere. The organizational plan, at least what we’ve been privy to, is for Aviles to play third, Getz to play second and Betemit to be sort of an every day utility man. I’m not opposed to giving Getz another chance, but Aviles has at least had a productive season in the big leagues.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Royals do with this glut of admittedly mediocre middle infield talent as the wave of prospects comes up. Johnny Giavotella is the main guy pushing at second base, but if Colon proves he can’t handle shortstop, he’s going to shift to the other side and provide even more competition. In an ideal world, Aviles shows he can handle shortstop again and Betancourt becomes expendable, but let’s not kid ourselves here. Either way, I’m glad Aviles looks to be back because he’s a fun guy to be one of my favorites.

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  1. November 24, 2010 at 11:26 am

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