The injury to Alex Gordon opens up more playing time this spring for the Royals in the infield. Most of the early speculation has been on Alberto Callaspo and Josh Fields. But one player who should not be counted out is Mike Aviles. After a breakout season in 2008, Aviles crashed last year, mainly due to an injury which required surgery. In Friday’s game that the FanGraphs group caught, Aviles started the game at second base while Callaspo was at third and Fields at first.
Aviles had Tommy John surgery in July. The normal prognosis is for up to a year to come back from the procedure. But Aviles was feeling strong early in camp and there were thoughts he might be ready to play much earlier, possibly even making the Royals as a utility infielder. The plan for the Royals was to give Aviles some early playing time in the Cactus League at second base, where he would not need to use his arm so much to make long throws. And with Gordon going down, it made finding playing time for Aviles even easier.
In his two games so far, Aviles has gone 2-for-3 in each. Additionally, the Royals consider Aviles to be a strong defensive player. Manager Trey Hillman told the Associated Press:
“I asked one of our developmental people if they could identify our most fundamentally sound infielder. Its (sic) Mike Aviles far as textbook fielding a ground ball, approaching a ground ball and doing it right all the time. One of the staff guys grabbed me the other day and said that’s as good as it gets.”
Neither Callaspo nor Betancourt have good defensive reputations. Callaspo put up some good fielding numbers in limited time previously at second base, but was below average last year in 146 games and the perception was even worse than the numbers. Betancourt had a UZR/150 of -23.9 last year, including a -28.6 after being acquired by the Royals.
If Aviles is healthy and has the best defensive option, his playing time might rest with how well he does at the plate. His big year in 2008 was the result of a .357 BABIP. Last year in 36 games he posted just a .223 mark. The projection systems show Aviles with a BABIP ranging from .300-.316 and with an AVG of .270-.284.
If everything goes right, Aviles could produce a .290 AVG with double digit totals in both SB and HR. That could be a nice pot of cheese at the end of your fantasy draft when you are looking to fill your middle infield position.
One other factor to consider is that Chris Getz is on the roster as a contender for playing time at second base. Getz was not overly impressive either offensively or defensively last year, although fantasy leaguers enjoyed his SB output. So, Aviles is potentially vying with both Getz and Callaspo for playing time at second, the position he is likely to play early in the season as he builds up arm strength.
Because of his defensive reputation on the club, Aviles should have a leg up in the competition. And while he may not get a ton of ABs in the spring due to Kansas City spreading them out to all of the contenders, if Aviles proves healthy throughout Cactus League play he has an excellent shot of breaking camp as a starter. And if he does get the playing time, Aviles is a good fantasy option.