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Is Mike Aviles a Keeper?

It may seem like I’ve been writing about Mike Aviles forever. Two years ago, I compared him to Kevin Maas during Aviles’ rookie year and recommended that people pass on him in 2009 drafts (and, as an aside, I predicted that year that Matt LaPorta may struggle a little more than expected, but the jury should remain out on the Indians slugger). In the preseason this year, I talked him up as a possible starter on that Royal middle infield, and then about six weeks ago, I pointed at him during his great September (.357/.379/.612). If you picked him up after that waiver wire piece, you enjoyed two of his eight home runs and six of his 14 stolen bases, so kudos. You might say Aviles has been better to me than could be expected of a mediocre second baseman.

Hold that though. Is he actually mediocre? User Bas made some interesting points in his favor in the comments section of the Second Base Keeper Rankings. The most important thing he noticed was that Aviles’ flyball rate has slowly been inching forward, incrementally up from 33.4% in his rookie year to 37.9% this last year. That certainly helped his ISO move back from .055 in his lost year to .108 in 2010, but even this new number is sub-par (average is .150ish). Can we faithcast him for more power next year if that flyball rate continues to move?

Maybe. His minor league ISO was .166, so he could put up average power in the major leagues. And getting more balls in the air helps the slugging percentage for sure. But let’s be careful before we pencil him in for more than 15 home runs. Let’s say he gets 500 plate appearances next year, hits 40% of his balls in the air, and returns to his 8% HR/FB while keeping his plate discipline ratios similar. Then he nets 13 home runs. 600 plate appearances? 15 home runs. There are your upper bounds when it comes to a home run total.

Of course, he has some speed. Look at his career four-score speed score, though, and you’ll see it’s more ‘above-average’ than ‘speedster’ kind of speed – Aviles has a 5.6 speed score and 5.0 is average. (Chris Getz, for example, has a career 6.6 speed score). Also, Aviles has never stolen more than 14 bases in a season. Let’s call his upper bounds 15 stolen bases then?

So Aviles has the upside of a .300-hitting, 15/15 second baseman – his 13 games at shortstop this year may or may not qualify him there in your league, and that makes a difference in terms of positional value. But Aviles will also be 30 going into the season, and on a (perpetually?) rebuilding team that owns the aforementioned 27-year-old Getz at his position as well. Getz is a better fielder at his position (-0.1 career UZR/150 to Aviles’ -4.9 career UZR/150) and walks more (7.3% to Aviles’ 4.1% career), so this is no open-and-shut case. The downside is that the team makes it an open competition in the spring and Aviles finds himself as the super-utility guy. That makes him hard to keep, but an interesting late-round draft pick in deep league re-stocking drafts.