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Mike Aviles: Royal Gem or Flash in the Pan?

Posted By David Golebiewski On November 1, 2008 @ 11:44 am In Shortstops | 1 Comment

Coming into the 2008 season, Mike Aviles was not on the radar screen of many fans or analysts. A short (5-9), stocky (205 pounds) 27 year-old, Aviles was seen as more of an organizational solider than a future starter at the major league level. Signed for a mere $1,000 out of division two Concordia in the 7th round of the 2003 draft, Aviles had spent the prior two seasons putting up relatively mild numbers at AAA Omaha, posting a .679 OPS in 2006 and a .796 mark in 2007. Left off the 40-man roster last winter and ranked as the 29th-best prospect in the system by Baseball America, Aviles figured to spend another season toiling in the PCL.

However, two factors combined to make Aviles’ 2008 campaign a memorable one: 1.) he got off to a torrid start in his third stint at Omaha (.336/.369/.631 in 214 AB) and 2.) he had the good fortune of not being Tony Pena Jr. (Pena’s RC/27 of 1.18 was the lowest among all players with at least 200 PA- that’s right, a team of Tony Pena’s would somehow manage to score 1 run per game). Aviles more than improved upon the low standards of the man he replaced, posting a .325/.354/.480 line. His WPA/LI of 1.28 was the fourth-best among shortstops with at least 400 PA.

So, what can be expected of Mike Aviles going forward? On the positive side, Aviles has shown a propensity to put the bat on the ball, striking out no more than 11% of the time at the AAA level and whiffing 13.8% in the majors. Combined with decent pop for a middle infielder (.155 ISO), Aviles has some things going for him offensively.

However, there is one very large red flag waving over Aviles: the man does not like to walk. His BB%’s over the past three years at Omaha were 5.6, 5.3, and 4.9. With the Royals, he drew a free pass just 4.1% of the time. If anything, he’s going backward in this regard. Aviles swung at 35.5 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone in 2008. Among shortstops with 200 or more PA, only noted hackers Angel Berroa, Clint Barmes and our old friend Pena Jr. swung at more bad balls.

As a player who relies heavily upon his batting average to succeed, Aviles carries a higher degree of risk. His BABIP was .359 last season. Given his line drive rate (20.2%), we would expect his BABIP to be about .322 (LD% + .120 is the formula for expected BABIP). If we remove those 37 extra points of average from Aviles’ line, he has a less shiny .299/.332/.443. Batting average is prone to variation more than most other offensive stats, and it’s not uncommon to see a player with a .300 skillset like Aviles hit 20 or 30 points below that mark. For example, take Pirates second baseman Freddy Sanchez, another batting average-fueled middle infielder. A productive player when he hit .344 in 2006 and .304 in 2007, Sanchez was a fantasy killer when he hit just .271 in 2008.

Mike Aviles is someone to keep on the radar screen at a position where offense comes at a premium, but keep in mind that he needs those extra ducksnorts to fall in there to be productive. A .330-hitting Aviles is a quality player, but a .280-hitting Aviles isn’t near as attractive.

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